Int'l human rights day Tel Aviv 311.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Thousands marched through Tel Aviv on Friday to mark International Human Rights Day. Participants were demonstrating against what they called “the racist anti-democratic wave which is hitting Israel.”
RELATED:Court hears case on family reunion rights for Palestinians Exposing the human rights facade
The protesters represented over 100 Israeli human rights organizations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty- Israel, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, Machsom Watch, Peace Now, Gush Shalom and the African Refugee Development Center. The march began at the Habima Theater and made its way down Sderot Ibn Gvirol to Kikar Rabin, where the rally took place.
Association for Civil Rights chairman Sami Michael addressed the crowd, saying that Israel’s leadership has abandoned the people, and issued a call for unity among Israel’s fractured society. “We are here to say we Jews and Arabs in Israel have a unified voice. Your fate is our fate, your voice is our voice,” he said.
Unlike last year’s parade (held for the first time), this year’s was notable largely due to the presence of thousands of African refugees, mainly Eritreans, who came to protest in favor of greater rights for refugees.
Carrying signs reading “We are not economic seekers, we are protection seekers” and “Asylum seekers are not criminals,” among others, the protesters stood en masse, chanting and singing in unison.
Their participation was organized on a grassroots level by Eritreans in and around Tel Aviv and was not overseen by any Israeli activist group.
New Israel Fund president and former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan addressed the crowd at Kikar Rabin, describing the past year as an especially hard one for the cause of human rights in Israel, but one that also gave much reason for hope.
“The past year was one in which the legislators of Israel lost all restraint in carrying out racist legislation. A year in which rabbis who are employees of the state incited hatred against ‘the other’ instead of teaching the value of respecting ‘the other.’ A year in which the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people only got worse and a peace agreement only got further away.”
Alongside “all these attacks, the past year gave us hope for a better future. Over the past year we saw citizens from all over the country and millions around the world who are working every day and aren’t giving up the hope for a different Israel; a just, tolerant Israel with greater equality for all,” Chazan said.
The protest wasn’t without its detractors. Over 200 people led by Im Tirtzu held a counter- protest near where the march began on Sderot Rothschild.
Waving Israeli flags, the group chanted “Jews have human rights too,” among other slogans.
“We are here to stop the cynical abuse of human rights for the needs of extremists in their propaganda against Israel,” Im Tirtzu’s Erez Tadmor told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday. He described the larger event as “a manipulation of human rights” and praised the various groups that came to ensure a different voice was heard.
A third, separate march was held by several hundred people outside the
Red Cross offices on Rehov Hayarkon, calling for the release of captive
IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
The rally was also scheduled to correspond with International Human
Rights Day, and joined rallies outside Red Cross headquarters in nearly a
dozen cities in Europe and the Americas, including New York, Buenos
Aires, Brussels and Berlin.
Gilad’s father, Noam Schalit, told the crowd “[The fact that] Gilad is
being held hostage for purposes of extortion and negotiation without any
basic human rights is clearly an insufferable war crime worthy of
thunderous condemnation from the entire free world.”
Jewish Agency chairman and former prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky, who
attended the rally, told demonstrators: “We are calling on all the
world’s organizations that deal with the issue of human rights to react
to Hamas’s war crimes and to work to free Gilad and get him back home.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.