Rothman requests restraining order against protesters; court postpones decision

Far-right MK demands closing of WhatsApp groups for activists ‘spying’ on him as they search for him during his vacation; Yair Netanyahu files similar request against pursuer

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman chairs a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on June 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
File: Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman chairs a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on June 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday heard a request from far-right Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman to place a restraining order on 400 anti-government protesters he accused of “persecuting” and “spying” on him.

Rothman, one of the leading authors of the government’s divisive judicial overhaul program, leveled the charge after activists created a WhatsApp group titled “Searching for Rothman in the Golan Heights.” The activists were seeking to stage a protest at the Majrase Nature Reserve, where Rothman was vacationing with his family Tuesday.

Rothman demanded the closure of messaging groups that aimed to track his movements and “trample” on his and his family’s privacy.

Judge Naeel Mohana said that the protests appeared to be legitimate, as Rothman chose to be a public figure exposed to criticism. The judge stressed that the law is designed to protect those under immediate danger.

Mohana ordered police to summon the administrators of the recent WhatsApp group for a hearing and suggested Rothman file a civil case against the activists.

A further discussion on the request will be held Sunday.

Rothman’s lawyer decided to withdraw his request against all of the members of the group, but warned the move would not prevent civil action against “all those that violate the privacy of Rothman and his family.”

“In a democratic country there is no right to violate the law,” Rothman said in response to the ruling. “Protesting is an important and sacred right, but persecution, disruption, and harassment are violations of the law.”

Protest organizers praised the judge for not accepting Rothman’s “perverse request” outright, and expressed hope “the same will be done to the coup laws he is trying to promote.”

“Let every member of the destructive coalition know: Anyone who seeks to destroy democratic Israel and turn it into a messianic dictatorship will not have a moment of peace,” they said.

Protest organizers on Tuesday had invited likeminded activists in the area to protest Rothman’s visit to the reserve, posting a link to the WhatsApp group in a social media post.

“Are you in the area? Let’s tell him that fascists like him that destroy democracy are not welcome anywhere! In the skies, on the land or in the sea, and don’t forget to pass on confirmation [of his location] so that we spread this shame to the masses,” they wrote.

File: Yair Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in Tel Aviv, on November 29, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Hounding the homes and locations of government ministers has been a staple of anti-overhaul protests from the get-go, echoing tactics employed last year by the Benjamin Netanyahu-led opposition that eventually toppled the previous government and returned the Likud party leader to power.

Meanwhile, Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, also filed a request for restraining order against an activist for allegedly harassing him, the Walla news site reported.

The request claimed that the activist hired several people “to follow and spy” on Netanyahu, and even provided his credit card details to them so they could stay close to him anywhere in the world.

“A political activist from the radical left began to pursue me across Israel and the world, violating my privacy and persecuting me. There is a real fear that harm will come to me,” he the claim said.

The request demanded the court order the removal of any “disturbing” posts by activists against Netanyahu.

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