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Jerusalem court puts off MK’s request for restraining order against reform opponents

The judge advised Simcha Rothman and his wife to file a civil suit against those who invade their privacy.

MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Jan. 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Jan. 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday put off until Sunday consideration of Knesset member Simcha Rothman’s request for a restraining order against 430 opponents of judicial reform, members of a WhatsApp messaging group called “Looking for and harassing Rothman.”

“After weighing all the considerations, I found that the respondents’ activity apparently falls within the scope of a permissible political protest, in accordance with the rules of the democratic game,” said Judge Naeel Mohana regarding the petition for an emergency order.

Such an order would restrict “the basic fundamental rights of the individual, and therefore … cannot be granted casually,” the judge added.

Rothman, who heads the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and is one of the leading architects of the government’s judicial reform program, said the activists planned to disrupt his family vacation in the Golan Heights.

They posted a picture of Rothman and his family, who are on vacation in the North, and the location where to find him. They urged people in the vicinity to go and harass him. The information was also shared on X/Twitter.

“The respondents began to pursue Rothman and his wife in violation of privacy, carried out detective operations and published personal information regarding their location,” according to Rothman’s petition.

He asked for an order to close the WhatsApp group as it is “designed to trample on my privacy.”

Although rejecting his initial petition, the court recommended that Rothman and his wife, Hannah, file a civil lawsuit against those who unlawfully invade their privacy.

On the judge’s recommendation, Rothman’s attorney, Uriel Nazri, immediately filed a civil suit.

Rothman’s office informed JNS that Rothman, through his attorney, also sent a warning letter to two lawyers who published his whereabouts on social media—Smadar Weinberg and Nitzan Tabenkin.

In a social media post, Weinberg wrote: “The chairman of the Constitution Committee … is arriving for a rest in the north of the Golan. … We are looking for volunteers, around the clock. … The goal: to pursue him everywhere. … The main thing is not to let him rest.”

Tabenkin opened a WhatsApp group called “Looking for Rothman in the Golan Heights” and organized “surveillance shifts.”

According to Israel’s Privacy Protection Law, “spying on or following a person in order to harass him” constitutes an invasion of privacy that is a criminal offense and a civil offense, Rothman’s civil suit notes.

Rothman’s attorney didn’t include all the members of the “Looking for Rothman” WhatsApp group in the civil suit so as to streamline the coming proceedings, which are slated for Sunday. He said that the decision to keep the list short does not in any way grant immunity to anyone who invades the privacy of Rothman and his family.

Rothman contacted Weinberg and Tabenkin through his attorney and demanded that the post be removed and an apology be published for violating his privacy.

“Demonstration is an important and sacred right but persecution, disruption and harassment are violations of the law,” Rothman said.

In the civil suit, Rothman and his wife said that opponents of judicial reform had been harassing them both in Israel and abroad.

In a well-publicized incident in June, Rothman pulled a megaphone away from a protester who was trailing him and his wife on a Manhattan street.

“A small group of violent protesters attacked me and my wife as we walked late at night in New York. They blocked our way, stepped on my wife Hannah’s leg and cursed, including death wishes,” Rothman explained to the press.

Rothman has been a favorite target of protesters, who have made harassing individual lawmakers a standard part of their activities. In May, angry protesters greeted him upon his arrival at Tel Aviv University to take part in a panel discussion on judicial reform. In April, hecklers continuously interrupted him during a panel discussion at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Tel Aviv.

In February, protesters harassed several Israeli coalition lawmakers outside their homes, including Rothman, in a bid to block them from reaching the Knesset to vote on the first bill in the government’s judicial reform package.

Protesters have been accused of crossing the line elsewhere, as when they gathered in June outside the home of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who leads the judicial reform push, and blocked the road near the entrance to his home with barbed wire and burning tires. 

“This is a serious incident of a violation of public order, endangering local residents by burning tires in the heart of a residential neighborhood, blocking traffic lanes and trampling on Supreme Court orders regarding protests in front of the home of an elected official,” police said in a statement.

Left-wing activists have also hired private investigators to surveil Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s son Yair.

The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), which is the organization tasked with protecting the prime minister’s son, said the incident was being handled.

Protesters also demonstrated against Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, during their recent vacation in northern Israel.

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