Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Another Blow to Israeli Democracy

In what I can only call a serious blow to Israeli democracy, the Knesset yesterday passed - through first reading - a law that would allow local authorities (i.e. municipal governments) to ban any demonstration or public event that "offends public opinion" !!

But that, of course is precisely the point of many demonstrations and public events: to express unpopular views, and to try to influence public opinion to change. Not to mention, that such a criteria is extremely subjective and open to interpretation. One imagines that most municipal politicians - who would now have the power to ban any public event - will feel that their own parties positions are non-offensive while those of their opponents are. No other country that calls itself a democracy has such an open ended restriction on freedom of assembly and public expression.

While clearly drafted to stop or limit future gay pride events in Jerusalem - the subject of much controversy in recent years - the broad sweep of the proposed law would no doubt come back to bite Israeli's freedoms in myriad ways. If ultimately passed into law (which requires two more votes in the Knesset) Israel would have brought the concept of the tyranny of the majority to new heights, while continuing to erode a major pillar of any true democracy - civil rights and freedom of expression for all - even minorities.

The bill, proposed by MK Eliyahu Gabbai (NU-NRP), allows local authorities to cancel such events if "they feel they present a threat to public safety, or offend public opinion, or religious sensibilities."

Prior to the bills passage, at the end of May, Jerusalem Police gave conditional approval for a gay pride parade in the city, but said that the event was subject to restrictions based on public safety. Currently, the prerogative for issuing permits for public events rests with police, who could ban the event - or restrict it - solely due to public safety concerns.

The annual parade, which is being organized by Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center, is slated to take place in the capital on June 21.

Last year's parade through the streets of Jerusalem was cancelled following weeks of violent haredi protests, and the event was moved to an enclosed stadium in the city.

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