The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday approved legislation suspending public protests as part of efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus while demonstrators clashed with police outside the parliament building.
The bill approved by the committee allows the government to declare a special emergency and restrict citizens from leaving their homes beyond one kilometer, even for demonstrations, for the duration of one week with the option of extending it for up to 21 days.
The legislation was then heading to the Knesset for its second and third votes by lawmakers, which were expected later Tuesday. Any restrictions on public protests must be voted on by parliament as the right to demonstrate is enshrined in Israeli law.
Outside the Knesset on Tuesday, demonstrators waved Israeli flags, banged on drums and chanted in favor of free speech ahead of the vote.
“They are denying us the right to protest because of political reasons not for health reasons and it’s mind-blowing, the frustration is beyond words, is beyond words. And a great worry,” said one of the demonstrators, Efrat Ben Barak, 40.
Police said three protesters who tried to block city workers from taking down banners that were hung illegally were arrested.
The Knesset committee met after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party dropped its demand to legislate for a six-month ban on all protests, which was met with furious condemnation by opposition lawmakers.
The committee failed to reach agreement before the Yom Kippur holiday that ended on Monday night, after Likud lawmakers attempted to introduce amendments that would allow the government to extend the ban for a period of six months – well beyond the expected length of the current nationwide lockdown – or alternatively use emergency regulations to ban demonstrations.
Coalition MKs from the Blue & White party refused to approve the proposed amendments.
A convoy of protesters also reached Jerusalem intending to encircle the Knesset. Police officers fined some of the drivers for blocking traffic, handing out penalties of NIS 500.
The Black Flag movement, which has been a key driver behind the protests calling for Netanyahu’s ouster over his mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and his indictment on charges of corruption, said “Netanyahu’s police” continued to act violently against anyone who does not support the prime minister.