IDI Leadership on Law Limiting Protests: "A Violation of the Most Basic Tenets of Democracy"
(Jerusalem – October 1, 2020) Yohanan Plesner, President of the Israel Democracy Institute and Prof. Yuval Shany, IDI's Vice President of Research, issued the following statement after the Knesset passed a final reading of legislation aimed at curtailing public protests during Israel's nation-wide lockdown.
"It is our personal opinion that with COVID numbers dangerously rising, now is not the time for any mass gatherings in Israel – including large protests. Such assemblies might not only involve certain health risks, but can also complicate efforts to discourage other large gatherings at a time when our health experts are advising all Israelis to stringently practices social distancing.
Nevertheless, we strongly oppose the latest legislation passed by the Knesset to make it illegal for Israelis to travel further than one kilometer from their home to attend demonstrations and allowing within this same distance gatherings of no more than 20 protestors. The restrictions in this law violate the most basic tenets of any democracy – freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Public health officials and the relevant law enforcement agencies have already published – at the Government's request – an agreed upon formula that would allow the protests to continue subject to certain precautions that they say will minimize the health risks, making additional legislation unnecessary and even harmful.
Key elements of any protest include a sizeable number of participants to possess the ability to focus public attention on a particular issue or figure by way of protesting within sight and sound of their target audience. By limiting these vital components of demonstrations, the Government is in fact banning all meaningful forms of protest. Additionally, in the case of the current protests taking place in Israel, it cannot be overlooked that they are aimed at the current Prime Minister, his eligibility to serve under criminal indictments and his Government’s policies. Therefore, the Cabinet is inherently in a clear conflict of interest at any point when it seeks to curtail the demonstrations against it.
The public health risks Israel is currently facing are too dangerous to be ignored. At the same time, there is no doubt that the lack of trust in the Government's policies voiced by large segments of the population is hampering the very steps needed to stem the spread COVID-19. This is why it is essential that the Government remove all political considerations from the decision-making process and allow legal experts and public health officials to determine where and under what conditions protests are to be held.
This is the only way we can hope to restore public confidence in our system, safeguard basic democratic rights and build support for the steps necessary to protect the health and wellbeing of all Israelis."