Israeli lawmaker demands closure of ‘stalking’ protest groups on WhatsApp

WhatsApp groups, in which activists share real-time information regarding the location of the politicians, have played a central role within their efforts to stalk and harass lawmakers who support the judicial overhaul.

By World Israel News Staff

MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) filed a request for a sweeping restraining order against some 400 people in a WhatsApp group last week, arguing that the members of the chat were using the medium to exchange information about his whereabouts in order to continuously harass him.

Rothman, who heads the Knesset’s Constitution and Law Committee and is one of the chief architects of the judicial reform, has been continuously followed by opponents to the legislation, including during trips outside of Israel.

In addition to asking for the restraining order against the individuals in the chat, Rothman said that the court should ban the WhatsApp groups itself.

“We ask the court to order the closure of all such groups on WhatsApp and to prohibit tracking, spying, or real-time location posting, which are intended by their definition and stated purpose to trample on Rothman’s privacy and even worse, of his family members,” Rothman’s attorney, Uriel Nazri, wrote in the filing.

A judge from the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court declined to issue an immediate restraining order and criticized the petition in his ruling.

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Rothman “is a public figure and chose his position, knowing it comes with criticism,” wrote Judge Nael Mahana.

He added that restraining orders are “meant for cases when there is an immediate threat, when urgent steps [to protect individuals] must be taken.”

Closing the group would infringe on demonstrators’ right to assemble, Mahana asserted. “When people want to organize a protest, this is the way to do it,” he wrote.

In recent months, Israel has been roiled by ongoing protests against the legislation, which has seen anti-overhaul activists harass, follow, and essentially stalk coalition lawmakers for long periods of time.

WhatsApp groups, in which activists share real-time information regarding the location of the politicians, have played a central role within their efforts to intimidate lawmakers who support the judicial overhaul.

Protesters have gathered outside of politicians’ homes, scaring their children, blocking them from coming and going freely from their residences, and holding noisy protests that have included arson and vandalism.

Beyond gathering at lawmakers’ homes, protesters have also disrupted politicians’ vacations, visits to restaurants and other leisure activities.