State must defend right to protest near A-G’s home, petitioners tell court

Saturday night protests near the attorney-general's house have been running for more than 40 weeks.

Avichai Mandelblit and Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Avichai Mandelblit and Netanyahu
The state is failing a responsibility to defend the right to demonstrate near the attorney-general’s house, a group of protesters represented by top NGO lawyers told the High Court of Justice in a legal brief on Thursday.
The Saturday night protests near Avichai Mandelblit’s Petah Tikva residence, running now for more than 40 weeks, seek to press him to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on various corruption charges as well as to counter any pressure on Mandelblit to let Netanyahu off the hook.
The High Court has been set to have held a hearing on Thursday regarding the demonstrations, but postponed it at the last second at the protesters’ request.
The complex, three-dimensional background to the protesters’ legal brief complaining about the state to the High Court pits Petah Tikva resident Tzadok Ben- Moshe against the state against the protesters.
A prior recent petition tried to protect the right to protest against attempts by police to crack down on the anti-Mandelblit protesters. But the current petition, filed last Friday, calls to block the demonstrations from continuing.
Ben-Moshe claims in his petition that the protests have escalated in recent weeks and that an emergency court order is needed immediately to force the state and the police to prevent a violent deterioration.
The state and the police, which were “the defendants” that Ben-Moshe wanted to force to block the protests, essentially did not oppose his petition.
The protesters, represented by top NGO lawyers Gabi Lasky and Yuval Yoaz, and who include former Netanyahu Prime Minister’s Residence house-manager and public nemesis Meni Naftali, replied that the state had a duty to defend Israel’s constitutional principles, including the right to protest.
Their legal brief said that they had expected to attend Thursday’s planned hearing on the protest issue, standing alongside the state as backup to defend the protesters’ rights. However, when shortly before the hearing was set to begin it became apparent that the state was essentially siding with Ben-Moshe’s anti-protest petition, they asked to postpone the hearing so they could prepare a full defense.
While saying they had insufficient time to prepare a full defense for Thursday, they did dispute Ben- Moshe’s characterization of the demonstrations as getting out of hand.
They said that the number of protesters was still about the same and that, at most, the demonstrations had recently drawn more media attention when Knesset members attended.
The protesters said that there was no evidence that an extraordinarily dangerous situation had come up that necessitated the draconian measure of suspending the right to protest in Mandelblit’s neighborhood. This was after an earlier order from an old petition had moved the protests from outside Mandelblit’s house to hundreds of meters away.
Moreover, they said that protesters were ready to hold a dialogue with local residents like Ben-Moshe about trash collection and cleanup from demonstrations, if those issues were bothering residents.
Finally, the protesters said Ben-Moshe’s declaration of the demonstrations as creating an urgent problem was ridiculous since they had been running for 40 weeks.
Meanwhile, late on Thursday night, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, with which Yoaz is affiliated and that has other connections to the protests, sent the press a notice that the police was trying to block this coming Saturday night’s weekly demonstration.
The Movement for Quality Government said it did not recognize the police’s authority to block the protest, especially while the High Court proceedings are ongoing, and demanded an explanation by Friday of any legal argument the police were relying on.