Lawmakers approve restrictions on protests, indoor prayer during lockdown

A key Knesset committee on Thursday gave final approval for a new law that heavily restricts demonstrations and bans indoor prayer at synagogues during the ongoing virus lockdown.

The law, approved by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, formalizes a government decision taken Wednesday. The new restrictions went into effect at Midnight Thursday and will remain in force at least until October 7.

The move was passed even as thousands took to the streets Thursday to protest new coronavirus restrictions and call for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation.

The new rules bar would-be demonstrators from gathering more than 1 kilometer from their homes, and limiting protests to groups of 20 people. It also prohibits indoor prayers at synagogues and bans people from visiting others’ sukkahs over the upcoming week-long Sukkot holiday, which begins on Friday night.

Police have not specified whether they will continue to allow up to 2,000 demonstrators to gather in 100 socially distanced “clusters” of 20 people each outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of protesters have attended some such previous protests, but these were being limited to 2,000 in recent days, and it is not clear whether that will still be the case now that the new restrictions have been approved.

Channel 13 reported that the Justice Ministry would permit a space of 30 meters between each cluster of 20 people, which would allow for fairly large protests in some squares and junctions, including outside Netanyahu’s residence.

Protestors block a road as they rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside his official residence in Jerusalem on September 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While proponents of the restrictions say that they are intended to curb Israel’s rising curve of coronavirus infections, organizers involved in the anti-Netanyahu protest movement of the past three months have vociferously opposed the new regulations, saying that they violate their freedom to protest.

Yishai Hadas, a leading activist in the anti-Netanyahu Crime Minister protest group, accused the government of a “political lockdown,” saying the new restrictions on demonstrations were motivated by a desire to quash the anti-Netanyahu protest movement, not public health.

Israelis attend a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the nationwide lockdown, at HaBima square in Tel Aviv on October 01, 2020.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Why are they screwing around? Let them just come out and say it: We don’t want protests at Balfour. And by the way, does this look like a lockdown to you? Most of the economy is open, there’s no enforcement anywhere you go,” Hadas told The Times of Israel on Thursday night. “They’re trolling the public. It’s absurd.”

The new regulations were approved as part of legislation passed by the Knesset early Wednesday morning. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit later informed the government that the legislation was not valid until appropriate changes were made to relevant regulations.

In the final version of the law, under a government-declared “special coronavirus emergency,” the cabinet can restrict protests, prayers, and religious ceremonies for a week, with the possibility of extending restrictions another two weeks, should the emergency continue.

Backers of the law argue that the protests are a major health hazard and cracking down on them is necessary given Israel’s skyrocketing infection rate.

But the measure has faced vociferous opposition from critics, who say it undermines Israel’s democratic character and serves Netanyahu’s political interests, using the virus as a cover.

Protests continued Thursday with around 3,000 demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv’s HaBima square, with small clusters of demonstrators marching in other parts of the city. Police arrested 12 protesters.

The rally was marred by a suspected car-ramming attack on protesters.

During the rally, a car stopped and then accelerated into a group of protesters standing in the middle of a road, before speeding away.

In a video of the incident shared on social media, a woman is seen falling to the ground before standing up again.

Other footage of the incident showed the same woman walking towards paramedics and demanding that they take her to the hospital. Protestors also claimed two people suffered bruising, Channel 12 News reported.

However, the Magen David Adom emergency service later said that after examining the people, none were found to be injured.

Police later stopped the car at a roadblock that was enforcing the lockdown operating nearby but allowed the car to pass, despite it showing damage, as the officers manning the site were not aware of the hit and run, the Haaretz newspaper reported. A police source told the paper that the driver would be apprehended. Some subsequent reports said this car was not involved in the suspected attack.

Joint List MK Ofer Cassif called the incident a “car-ramming attack” and blamed Netanyahu for inciting people against the demonstrators. The prime minister has  in the past referred to those protesting against him as “anarchists.”

“After months of incitement from the prime minister himself and all those around him, a man chose to take action and try to kill protestors using a car. Netanyahu is the writing on the wall, Netanyahu will not rest until a demonstrator is killed,” Cassif tweeted.

During the demonstrations, police also arrested 12 demonstrators for “disturbing public order” by blocking traffic and refusing to obey police commands to disperse.

“The police chief informed the protesters that this was an illegal demonstration and gave them a reasonable amount of time to disperse,” the police said in a statement.

Dozens of fines were also handed out for “violating Health Ministry guidelines.”

Demonstrators were seen scuffling with police in Tel Aviv as officers worked to clear them from roads. Mounted police also arrived to control the crowds.

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2 Responses to “Lawmakers approve restrictions on protests, indoor prayer during lockdown”

  1. netanyahu1488 says:

    Not one politician criticized the close contact or damages to the tune of $2 billion, and though they criticize “Kristalnacht”, THE RIOTING AND BURNING IS OKAY!

  2. netanyahu1488 says:

    Justice is served only when it serves them – the Left.

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