Protecting the Right to Protest

22 April 2021

Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that the prohibition on individuals demonstrating more than 1,000 meters from their home—imposed by the government during the second COVID-19 lockdown last year —was unlawful. A nine-justice panel ordered that the government must never reintroduce such a restriction.

This ruling came after a petition by NIF grantees, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. Eight of the nine judges ruled that the location of any demonstration, in this instance outside the prime minister’s residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, is a crucial element of any protest and its messaging.

The Supreme Court ruled that all fines imposed on demonstrators under the law are absolved and that the state must reimburse any fines that have already been paid.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut wrote, “significant harm was done to the ability of the demonstrators to express their feelings.”

Furthermore, Justice Meni Mazuz stressed that, “It would be appropriate if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would avoid taking any part in the decision about regulations restricting demonstrations against him.”

However, the court conceded that the decision to split demonstrators into so-called ‘capsules’ of 20 people, with each group at least 20 meters from the other, was a proportionate measure in order to ensure social distancing.