High Court green lights protests near attorney-general’s house

Police may not condition the events by their numbers or permits.

Israeli police watch protestors in Petah Tikva, August 19, 2017. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Israeli police watch protestors in Petah Tikva, August 19, 2017.
The High Court of Justice on Sunday ruled it legal to hold demonstrations near the attorney-general’s home protesting corruption and other probes against the Netanyahus.
Critically, the High Court also declared that the police cannot condition the protests on granting a license nor can the police move the protests given that the number of attendees has ballooned to more than 2,000 people.
The ruling amounts to a huge victory for the protesters, who have been pressing Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit to expedite his decisions regarding criminal probes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
Though Mandelblit announced he would likely indict Sara Netanyahu on September 7, he still has not done so. And with no immediate end in sight regarding the prime minister, the protesters have remained focused on the attorney- general.
Mandelblit and the police previously succeeded in getting the protests moved from immediately outside his home to Goren Square, a few hundred meters away. However, the police and residents had tried to move the protests to a different area of Petah Tikva, contending that as the numbers grew, the protests caused public disorder.
Justice Esther Hayut, due to become Supreme Court president in the near future, voted unanimously with Justices Yoram Danziger and Uzi Vogelman against that position, questioning whether Israel’s laws regarding requiring licenses for protests should not be more widely modified.
The justices wrote that the right to protest is “the actualization of the right to free speech which is at the heart of the fundamentals of freedom in a democratic state” and should not be conditioned generally on receiving a license. Protesters need only notify the police in advance of their plans.
The High Court did qualify that the police could set conditions if there are disturbances, but said those claimed to date did not meet the threshold for conditions, even given the increased number of protesters.
Lead petitioner, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, said, “This is a great victory for civil society, free speech and Israeli society generally... The court today defended the right of the Israeli public to speak its mind” even in cases where those in power do not want to hear from them.
Attorney Menachem Moshkovitz, who represented Mandelblit’s neighbors, called the decision unfortunate, and criticized the judges for not taking into consideration that there are many other places in which a demonstration could be held.
“We respect the ruling, even though we think the decision should have been different,” Moshkovitz said. “Like the court, we call on the legislature to regulate the matter in law.
We hope the demonstrators will show social sensitivity and avoid continuing to make the lives of the residents miserable.”
Likud MK Nava Boker called the ruling “disappointing and mistaken,” and accused the demonstrators of blackmailing Mandelblit, such that if he does not indict Netanyahu, they will make his life miserable.
“Justice Hayut explained her ruling by saying demonstrations are ‘the air democracy breathes,’ and I want to know: Are harassment, threats, disturbing the peace and extortion also ‘the air democracy breathes?’” Boker asked.