Supreme Court Judge Uzi Fogelman on Wednesday leveled veiled criticism at the Tel Aviv municipality when he noted that even though the municipality is a public body and not an economic entity, it has lately been commercializing the public spaces within its jurisdiction.
The comments were made at a Supreme Court hearing on a petition submitted by the Movement for Quality Government following the Tel Aviv municipality's demand for payment to hold a rally in Rabin Square.
As reported recently in Haaretz, in the last year the Tel Aviv municipality rented Hayarkon Park to Cellcom; the Habimah complex to the Gindi Company; Rabin Square for a night run sponsored by Nike; and the Tel Aviv Port to Bezeq and Super-Pharm.
During the hearing, the Supreme Court judges indirectly criticized the Tel Aviv municipality's price for the use of Rabin Square to hold rallies. According to the judges, it would be appropriate if the fee the municipality charged were commensurate and reasonable and asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to address the matter within 90 days.
"On the face of it, it seems strange," said Judge Dorit Beinisch at the hearing, adding, "The question is whether or not it is appropriate in these circumstances for a single, central body to determine procedures and look into rates for all the municipalities. It is a subject that warrants a comprehensive and broad arrangement."
The matter reached the Supreme Court after the Movement for Quality Government approached the Tel Aviv Administrative Court claiming it was asked to pay NIS 19,000 for a 2005 rally at Rabin Square attended by just a handful of participants.
The court ruled that the municipality's right to charge for merely agreeing to the request to use square exclusively should not be negated. In an appeal the Movement for Quality Government submitted to the Supreme Court, it was argued that the municipality's approval of the rally for a fee constitutes an unfair and illegal restriction of the right to convene and protest against governmental injustices.
According to the movement, the fees amount to thousands of shekels per demonstration, sums that deviate substantially from the municipality's actual expenses resulting from the demonstrations.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Tel Aviv City Councilor Yoav Goldring sought to join the petition as "friends of the court."
Goldring said that "given the ease with which the municipality allows commercial use of the public space, its insistence on charging a fee specifically of those who seek to exercise their civil and democratic right to freedom of expression is infuriating."
The Tel Aviv municipality responded by saying: "The Supreme Court accepted the municipality's position whereby it may charge for expenses incurred from rallies and other events in Rabin Square and urban public spaces. The Supreme Court rejected the appellants' claim that this damages freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. The municipality charges a fee for the direct expenses incurred from the use of the square, including cleanup, electricity, sanitation, fences, security and the like. The municipality charges only for the use of Rabin Square, the Museum Plaza and the Cinematheque and the use of all other public spaces is free. We would note that the Supreme Court did not offer criticism and did not review the issue of fees currently charged by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality based on municipal procedures."
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