Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, August 29, 2020.

In Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit explained to a group of irate ministers that the Corona Law excluded four areas: the Knesset, the media, the courts, and the freedom to demonstrate.

“Restricting the demonstrations will require legislation,” he explained. “Without it, it would be impossible to do.”

Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. / Olivier Fitoussi / Flash 90
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Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has instructed the director-general of his office to start formulating a Purple Tag to limit the demonstrations during the Corona period.

The Purple Tag is a statement by a business or an institution attesting to its fulfillment of the Health Ministry’s guidelines – even as they occasionally change. The Purple Tag is voluntary, based on the honor system, but it is subject to inspection and to prosecution, should the entity in question violate its signed commitment.

The approaching lockdown that starts on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5781 this Friday has revived the dispute in Israeli society over the fact that while outdoor weddings, concerts, and prayer services with hundreds of participants are illegal and punishable by fines in the thousands of shekels, every Saturday night about ten thousand anti-Netanyahu demonstrators converge on the Prime Minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem and hundreds more on his home in Caesarea, and police do not interfere.

It doesn’t help that previous claims that those protesters are somehow magically protected by the coronavirus fairy have proven to be false, as dozens of protesters and police from those rallies have come down with the disease. So, why do the protesters receive this preferential treatment? Is it because the police and the AG are good for nothing lefties endeavoring to unseat an elected premier with those pesky demonstrations?

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reports his indictments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, November 21, 2019. / Hadas Parush / Flash 90

It’s not, said the AG, as he has done so many times before. Demonstrations are sanctioned because the law says so. You want police to arrest demonstrators because they ignore social distancing rules and sing Kumbaya at Bibi’s door? Change the law.

Which wouldn’t look so good, you must admit, should the country claiming it is the only island of democratic freedom in a sea of desert dictatorships.

It won’t look good even if the police were to remove only those demonstrators who stand less than 6 feet from one another or the ones who aren’t wearing a face mask or wear their mask over their chin which is the fashion in some quarters – for no reason at all, they might as well wear those masks on their elbows.

All of which did not mean squat to Dudi Amsalem, the Minister for Cyber and National Digital Matters (hey, don’t chuckle, this government also has a Minister of Higher Education and Water). Amsalem yelled at Mandelblit: “Take responsibility. Should a gathering of 10,000 people be allowed? Are you serious? How can you stand by? It’s not a matter of quantity but of quality. Take responsibility for the disease, the public trust has been damaged because of those demonstrations. How can you tell people afterward that they can’t pray?”

But since the minister of binary stuff did not follow up with a proposed amendment to outlaw political demonstrations, we can infer that it wasn’t so much about finding a political solution to this obvious problem as it was about the yelling.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said at the meeting: “Balance should be maintained between the right to demonstrate and the right to health. Let the professionals find the right balance.” Ministers Amir Ohana and Miri Regev agreed with him, but you must realize that the call for balance is as hollow and cowardly as the yelling at the AG who does not write the law, only implements it.

Even though his office is yet to publish reliable data on the health risks of crowded rallies, while the lively public debate on the matter is generating fake numbers in all directions, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish insisted that there was a consensus in the ministry that the demonstrations promote infection.

But he, too, stopped short of suggesting a moratorium on political rallies until the country emerges from the nightmare of 1,126 deaths from the pandemic, 40,561 active patients, 529 of whom are in serious condition, 144 on ventilators.

As to the Purple Tag – Health Minister Edelstein will not be involved in formulating the recommendations of his office, at his own request, to prevent the possibility of claims that those recommendations are politically motivated. After formulating an outline, the cabinet will vote on it.

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