In a 1977 landmark decision which became one of the most important precedents in American legal history, the Supreme Court approved a Neo-Nazi demonstration in Skokie, Illinois, of all places—more than half of whose residents were Jewish. The demonstration's organizers wanted nothing more than to pick at the open wounds of Holocaust survivors.
Israel also boasts a proud history of an unending list of demonstrations. The largest in the country's history was the continuous, non-stop demonstration in the summer of 2011, the days that became known as the great social protests. Those demonstrations caused disorderly conduct and grievously harmed residents of adjacent areas.
No one dared dream of preventing these demonstrations, in the US, Europe or Israel. The reason for that is simple: it matters little what the demonstration is about. It's also irrelevant what the people in charge of the government, police, coalition or opposition think of demonstrators' opinions. Annoying and outrageous demonstrations, be they far left or far right, are a basic institution of any democracy.
The Israel Police, however, in an unprecedented manner and taking advantage of the fact the Supreme Court has yet to discuss the petition in the matter, decided to prevent an anti-corruption protest.
One of the claims we heard from the Right was that this was a political demonstration. That's admittedly true. This isn't just an anti-corruption protest but one that is mostly aimed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. So what? Demonstrations for renewable energy or against construction on beaches are also politically motivated, and demonstrations in general are very rarely apolitical.
Protestors can be political. The police can't. But that's precisely what happened.
The police's decision was purely political. You don't have to be a mind reader to understand that if we were dealing with another pro-Netanyahu demonstration, the police wouldn't have prevented it and certainly would not have arrested—or even detained—the great mastermind behind it, MK David Bitan.
Meni Naftali and Eldad Yaniv were arrested in Saturday night's demonstration, however, in what shaped up to be one of the most anti-democratic moves in the annals of Israel's democracy.
The shame runs much deeper than it seems at first glance when one consideres that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has lent his support to it. He could've prevented the prohibition against the demonstration, but he didn't.
There is a time and place to limit demonstration, in the most extreme of cases. This time isn't it. There's no room to compare the permit given to demonstrations in Skokie, Charlottesville or Kahanist protests in Umm al-Fahm with the Petah Tikva protests.
There remains significant doubt over whether the former should have been allowed to be staged through as planned. Not every racist provocation is permissible. But an anti-corruption demonstration? A political demonstration against the prime minister? A demonstration against the judgment of the attorney general? That's exactly what demonstrations are for.
Protestors may be wrong, or they may be right. The fact is though, it really doesn't matter. The right to demonstrate isn't born of the veracity or validity of the demonstration's selected cause. And come to think of it, have any of the protest's organizers incited hatred or violence? Is disturbing the neighbors' peace just cause to prevent a protest? After all, residents of Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard suffered for months, and not just once a week but every single day. If that's the excuse we're using, Israel will never have demonstrations again.