On August 22, 2022, the Tel Aviv Court for Administrative Matters rejected an administrative petition filed by a resident of the Givatayim municipality to unblock him from the Givatayim mayor’s Twitter account. The mayor blocked the petitioner after he posted harsh criticism of the mayor’s conduct regarding the protection of pedestrians and cyclists in Givatayim. (ATAM 61176-10-20 Rubinstein v. Givatayim Municipality et al.)
A district court sits as a court for administrative matters in accordance with the Courts for Administrative Matters 5760-2000 law, as amended. This law authorizes the court for administrative matters to adjudicate petitions against local authorities. In accordance with the Courts Order (Transitional Provisions) (Jurisdictions of the District Courts), 5714-1954, as amended, there are six district courts in Israel — including the Tel Aviv District Court — whose jurisdictions are defined by geographical areas.
According to Judge Abigail Cohen, the central question was whether the mayor’s Twitter account, which was not funded or operated by any municipal employee, was subject to the rules of administrative or private law. This decision required an evaluation of the dominant objective of the account and its specific characteristics.
The conduct of elected officials on social networks, according to Cohen, was an important issue that involved constitutional aspects and significant broad implications. It was appropriate to regulate the issue by legislation or at least through the establishment of clear guidelines by the regulators, she noted. Legislative work in this respect had reportedly been underway.
Even in the absence of clear rules, Cohen opined, it was possible to decide on the individual dispute brought before the court. The decision could be made on the basis of an examination of relevant facts in accordance with currently available legal tests for identifying the account as either a private or public.
Having examined the dominant purpose of the mayor’s account and its use, Cohen concluded that it was a private account. The account was not funded by a public body, nor was it operated by employees of a public body. Although the account included materials taken from the municipality’s website, the mayor was not the only one who could share these materials. The fact that the account included a discourse on matters of public interest, such as the safety on the sidewalks of Givatayim, did not negate the fact that this was a private account of a private person who was also a mayor. According to Cohen, “the fact that in the private-political account, matters that have a public aspect are also raised does not in itself make the private account public.”As a private account, the mayor’s account was subject to rules of private law and not to the jurisdiction of the court for administrative matters. The Tel Aviv court rejected the petition accordingly.