Israel takes pride in being democratic in an undemocratic region but is now looking to limit one of the very foundations of democratic societies.
Under hardliner Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel is taking a drastic measure against increasing protests.
According to new police regulations, gatherings of more than 50 people will require a permit and the police can even impose restrictions on smaller events.
Recently, not just Palestinians but also Israelis from different walks of life have been protesting Netanyahu, who faces multiple corruption accusations.
Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister (surpassing David Ben-Gurion the primary national founder and first prime minister of the country), is heading into rerun elections after failing to form a coalition government following April's elections.
Two years ago, Israel’s High Court of Justice permitted holding demonstrations of any size without a permit but the new regulations from the police exploit a loophole by coining a new term, ‘protest event’, that can allow the regulation to circumvent the high court.
Israeli security forces even made arrests close to a neighbourhood where Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit lives, on the grounds that protesters failed to obey new demonstration guidelines or fulfil the conditions set by the police. Mendelblit handles Netanyahu’s corruption cases.
The new measures are being met with stiff opposition, even from some of Netanyahu’s former allies. Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who was defence minister during one of Netanyahu's previous governments, is one of them.
Barak joined one of the demonstrations after the arrests on Friday to show his opposition to the new police guidelines.
“All those fables they tell you about public disturbances are misleading. When a lawyer is dragged and handcuffed, when a lawyer coming to defend the arrested people can’t get their names, ending up under arrest himself despite his holding an attorney’s license and his previous service in the Shin Bet – that’s a disgrace,” Barak said.
Some Israeli media outlets have also critiqued the new police guidelines saying that it goes against the country’s Supreme Court, which recently ruled that the government can not narrow the definition of the right to protest.
The Haaretz newspaper’s lead editorial criticised the new regulations, calling them “an infringement on democracy”.
While Haaretz referred to the Supreme Court decision to criticise the regulations, the court also ruled that the police are authorised “to impose, in advance or retroactively, restrictions on demonstrations and marches that it believes are almost certain to endanger public safety”.
The regulations have been issued on a temporary basis, but if the Knesset, Israel's parliament, enacts a law to regulate protests, then they could also find a permanent legal ground.
Netanyahu is also currently seeking to enact a controversial law that could provide him with immunity ahead of any potential conviction.