According to earlier policy, the flag could only be taken away if it “had the potential to instigate a disturbance of the peace” because of laws protecting freedom of expression.
A day after a Palestinian flag was flown at an Israeli-led anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel’s new national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has instructed the state’s police chief to enforce a rule banning them from public areas.
Using previously unheard-of authority granted to the ultra-nationalist politician as part of recent coalition talks to form Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, Ben-Gvir gave commissioner Kobi Shabtai the order on Sunday.
As Israel’s High Court of Justice has already ruled in numerous rulings, the right to expression should not be restricted unless there is a high probability of a serious and genuine threat to public safety, according to Channel 13 News, which first reported the order. Israeli police were reportedly uncertain of the unilateral decree.
On November 7, the court dismissed a complaint brought by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) against the police commissioner, the district commander of Jerusalem, and the state attorney, calling for an end to the intimidation of demonstrators waving the Palestinian flag. According to the court, the petition was denied because the Attorney General had already issued an update instructing officers not to interfere with the flag’s flying unless it “has the potential to instigate a disturbance of the peace,” as required by policy.
Outrage from the right
Even so, far-right commentators and decision-makers expressed their outrage after a display of the flag occurred in Tel Aviv on Saturday. Prime Minister Netanyahu, for example, criticized “the opposition” and “mainstream media” for failing to denounce such “wild incitement.”.
The prime minister tweeted, “I demand that everyone stop this right away.”.
Omer Bar-Lev, a former minister of public security, instructed commissioner Shabtai in 2021 to only order the confiscation of Palestinian flags in extreme security circumstances.
The police commissioner has traditionally had considerable discretion regarding whether the Palestinian flags should be allowed to fly. Policy generally dictates that the flag be prohibited from Jerusalem because it is thought to have a “high level of probability of a major violation of public order,” but permitted in Tel Aviv because it lacks many of the flashpoint characteristics of the holy city.
Ben-Gvir, however, objected to the flag’s display over the weekend in the village of ‘Ara in the Haifa district during a celebration of the release of Palestinian prisoner Karim Younis, who was released on Thursday after 40 years in an Israeli jail.
In addition to announcing the new flag directive, Ben-Gvir’s office noted that the minister had asked Shabtai to launch an internal inquiry into why his earlier order to stop officers from celebrating the prisoner’s release in ‘Ara was only partially carried out by them, according to Haaretz.