Opinion: Supreme Court’s decision to allow unbridled freedom of expression that permits extremists to hold provocative rallies, serve in Knesset, and dictate public discourse, will only serve to end democracy, instead of advancing it

During the Pride Month of June, a host of LGBTQ marches are set to take place across Israel. One of the places where such a march won’t take place is the largely-religious southern city of Netivot. Numerous threats, including against the event’s organizers, made sure of that.

There have also been many, many threats made against Israel over the route of the nationalistic Jerusalem Day flag march, which set to take place this coming Sunday and pass through the volatile Damascus Gate in the Old City.

Israelis hold Israeli flags and dance during the March of Flags at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, June 15, 2021
Israelis hold Israeli flags and dance during the March of Flags at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 15, 2021


It is still unclear if these threats will actually deter the government from allowing the march to pass through the city’s flashpoint, where tens of thousands of Palestinians regularly gather en route to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Last year, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu folded at the last minute and scrapped the decision to allow the march to pass through the gate over Hamas threats.

These were not idle threats either, and Israel’s change of course did not placate Hamas as the government had hoped. The terror group proceeded to fire rockets at Jerusalem, which effectively served as the opening shot for last year’s 11-day May war with Gaza.

The flag march and the Pride Parade are, of course, not the same. The parade is not a “show of sovereignty” like the march. But for the Pride Parade’s opponents, mostly the religious and the ultra-Orthodox, it is a provocation.

צעדת הדגלים
An archive picture showing the 2021 Jerusalem Day flag march (Photo: AFP)


They are the majority in Netivot. To them, the Pride Parade in their city is akin to the far-right flag march passing through the streets of the predominantly-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.

They are not likely to listen to repeated explanations and reasoning about how the parade is not about provocation, but about inclusion.
And yet, the question remains. When a given act is a provocation and when it’s a legitimate claim to freedom of expression?

The rule of thumb in Israeli politics dictates that when it’s an event organized by “our” side, then cancellation is surrender, as opposed to when the “other” side is behind it and annulment is usually considered a smart compromise.

In recent days, officials from the left-wing Meretz party have unsuccessfully tried to explain why they are in favor of the parade in Netivot, but against the flag march in Jerusalem.

The other side also finds it difficult to explain why it’s against the parade in Netivot, but in favor of the march in Jerusalem.

Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem
Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem (Photo: Reuters)


In 1977, the United States Supreme Court allowed a neo-Nazi demonstration in the town of Skokie, where many Holocaust survivors lived, to go ahead.

In 2008, Israel’s Supreme Court effectively adopted the stance of America’s top court by allowing an extremist far-right demonstration to take place in Umm al-Fahm. Police, nevertheless, banned the demonstration, which eventually took place anyway and ended with some 30 wounded.

The court’s mistake lies in the fact that it seems to think that granting unlimited, or almost unlimited, freedom of expression serves to advance democracy.

This is exactly the same approach that gave Azmi Bishara – a former MK who was banned from politics in 2003 due to his support of an “armed struggle” against Israel – and other racists a chance to run for the Knesset, all while trampling state law.

The result of these rulings is not promotion of democracy, but radicalization, hatred and violence.

One day, when Itamar Ben-Gvir wins 30 Knesset seats and Israeli democracy will stand on the precipice, all we’ll be able to do is remember how the top court allowed such extremists to run for Knesset in the first place.

When we’ll see how Arab MKs who fully identify with terrorists win seats in the Knesset with the help of tens of thousands of Hamas supporters, we’ll do well to remember that it was the Supreme Court that allowed it to happen.

Israeli security forces check the IDs of Palestinian youth outside Damascus' Gate in Jerusalem
Israeli security forces check the IDs of Palestinian youth outside Damascus’ Gate in Jerusalem (Photo: AFP)


The American approach, according to which everything is permitted, is not a divine decree.

The European approach is different. It states that the implementation of rights is subject to the essential conditions and restrictions of a democracy, in accordance with the interests of national security and public order.

That’s how it should also be in Israel, which deals with a lot more security challenges than any European country. There is no need to embolden precisely those who want to destroy Israel from within. It doesn’t serve to advance democracy, it only serves to fuel the fire of division.

It’s time for some more restraint. Instead of a promiscuous democracy, we need a defensive one.

There is no need to allow the flag march to pass through the Muslim Quarter when some of the marchers – only some, mind you – shout “Death to the Arabs” – as has happened in previous marches.

This is not a demonstration of sovereignty, but a demonstration of racism. Just like the Arab demonstration in Lod, which happened ten days ago, where some protestors expressed their support of Hamas and its military wing leader Mohammed Deif.

Israeli democracy is strong, but not bulletproof. We will eventually lose our democracy if we continue to give stage and Knesset membership to those who represent the extreme far-right, the supporters of jihad, the deniers of the Jewish state, and those whose ideology is in direct conflict with principles of said democracy.

As reported by Ynetnews