Police Weighing Options After Dramatic Court Decision on Protesters’ Rights

YERUSHALAYIM -
MK David Bitan arrives to a protest in support of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu near the weekly protest against the corruption of the government outside the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Petah Tikva on August 5. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Police were said they would consult with government and legal officials to understand their options and responsibilities in the wake of a High Court ruling Sunday that protests outside the house of State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit are legal – and do not require a police permit. Senior police officials said that “it appears that the court has changed the rules on how protests can be conducted, making our job more complicated.”

After residents of the Petach Tikvah neighborhood where Mandelblit lives had complained over the loud protests outside his house that had gone on for months by groups demanding that he pursue investigations on corruption charges against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu more aggressively, police sought to limit the protests. Police limited the number that could participate to 500, and made the protesters conduct their demonstrations away from Mandelblit’s house.

The protest groups petitioned the High Court, which on Sunday ruled that police could not limit protests outside Mandelblit’s house – or outside the house of any other public official, for that matter. “Criticism of state officials and institutions is the lifeblood of democracy, and none are exempt from public criticism,” the court said in its decision. “That goes for state attorneys and for High Court judges,” it said, relating to separate protests by residents of south Tel Aviv against High Court chief justice Miriam Naor, whom the protesters accuse of failing to take action against illegal African migrant workers that they say have made life in their neighborhood very difficult.

The petition had been brought by the Movement for Quality Government against the Israel Police, which had claimed that allowing the protesters to demonstrate outside Mandelblit’s house could constitute a danger to the public’s safety, and that it was necessary to limit the number of protesters in order to ensure security. The court rejected those claims, saying that they believed police had the resources to ensure security and safety.

With that, incoming chief justice Esther Hayut wrote in her opinion that police would have the right to prevent protests that interfered with the rights of others, such as preventing demonstrations on Shabbos in religious areas, such as the one Mandelblit lives in, as well as reconsidering their policies based on future events and incidents.

Police said in a statement Monday that they would respect the court’s decision. Police officials were quoted by Channel Two as saying that the decision is a “game changer,” and would open up the door to many kinds of protests that until now police demanded that organizers apply for a permit to conduct.