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Minister to High Court: AG must explain lack of charges for road-blocking protesters

National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf petitioned the High Court of Justice on Thursday, seeking for it to order the attorney general to explain why charges are not being filed against anti-government demonstrators who block roads.

Wasserlauf, a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, accused Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara of “selective enforcement” against protesters, telling the court that “she shirks her duties and abandons the public in the face of violence from systematic criminality.”

The attorney general, the lawmaker wrote, “clearly employs selective enforcement, and in her conduct abandons the public to violence and criminal acts.”

Months of weekly mass protests against the judicial overhaul plan have seen demonstrators block major highways, including the Ayalon Highway through Tel Aviv, as well as access roads to Ben Gurion Airport. On several occasions, organizers have specified ahead of the event that the intention is to clog roads.

In the petition, Wasserlauf said his previous appeals to the attorney general about the matter were not met with a reasonable response and there was no longer any option other than judicial intervention regarding law enforcement against anti-overhaul protests.

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Wasserlauf asked that Baharav-Miara be ordered to explain why she has not instructed that protest leaders, as well as those arrested while blocking roads, be indicted. Right-wing lawmakers have repeatedly accused law enforcement officials of utilizing a double standard against the current mass protest movement, compared to past demonstrations by Haredim, Ethiopian-Israelis or settlers.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

At a stormy cabinet meeting last month, Baharav-Miara was repeatedly castigated by ministers, including several who said she should be ousted from her job over allegations of selective enforcement. The attorney general said at the time that “I hope that the government is not expecting the law enforcement system to fill quotas for arrests or indictments against protesters.”

Baharav-Miara and other senior officials in the Justice Ministry were summoned to the meeting to discuss how law enforcement agencies have dealt with the massive wave of protests against the government’s efforts to overhaul the judiciary, including blocking highways and other forms of civil disobedience. At the time, a Justice Ministry official said six protesters had so far been indicted, a figure derided by coalition members.

In a statement to the media on Thursday, Wasserlauf vowed to “not rest nor remain silent in the face of the selective enforcement” and warned that the prosecution’s behavior “could lead to the collapse of the rule of law and crushing public trust in the enforcement systems.”

He compared the situation today to right-wing protests against Israel’s 2005 unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, a point of reference that is often cited by government supporters demanding firmer action against the current protests.

“The prosecutor’s office, which during the Disengagement period acted like a fearsome tiger and filed hundreds of indictments for road blockers with lightning proceedings… has become a sleepy cat when it comes to a protest against the [judicial] reform, and does not make an effort to produce even the semblance of any enforcement against the handful of lawbreakers who are creating chaos on the streets of Israel,” Wasserlauf said.

While coalition members have lamented weak enforcement against demonstrations, protesters have complained of excessive police violence during clashes. On Wednesday, the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department questioned five officers accused of beating protesters as they cleared the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv last month.