By RON FRIEDMAN
An estimated 4,000 people took part in a human rights march in Tel Aviv on Friday. The march, the first of its kind in Israel, included activists for more than a hundred organizations and ended in a mass rally in front of the Tel Aviv Museum.
Friday's march celebrated the anniversary of the 1948 United Nations declaration on universal human rights. Participants called for equal rights for all Israelis and cried out against what they perceive as antidemocratic measures taken by the Israeli government against minorities and human rights activists.
As the throng marched by, protesters chanted slogans and held up banners and homemade signs. Each group was protesting for a different cause, and there were a wide variety of them, from Transsexual's gender rights to senior citizen's judicial rights; from those calling for more bicycle lanes to those calling to stop the deportation of foreign workers.
Protesters demonstrated against both ongoing injustices, like the Gaza siege or structured discrimination against Arab Israelis, and current events, like the biometric database or Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's recent statements about his desire to instill halachic principles in the justice system.
The march brought together organizations that had previously never cooperated, some of them long established and well funded like Peace Now and the New Israel Fund and others seemingly impromptu, like the Association of Israeli Football Fans or the two-person movement for sexual liberation.
Though the event was supposed to be non-political, both Hadash and Meretz Youth sent out large delegations and called out for political change.
"Bless you, you courageous people," said Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) president and author, Sammi Michael. "We are all the survivors of a damned century, a century of war and bloodshed, a century in which youth were taught to sacrifice themselves in order to destroy those who are differentâ€¦. We are here to declare that there is no value but the value of human beings and their rights and freedoms. We are here to emphasize that we all belong to the same wonderful race - humanity." "Human beings' right to security, freedom, a slice of bread and a roof over their head is the foundation of our existence as cultured people. We will not throw rocks, but we will do everything in our power to stop those who plan to harm the rights of those who are different within society," said Michael.
"We are here today and we will be here tomorrow and the day after. We are committed to be here forever in order to ensure the existence of a just society." Following his speech, Michael presented the Emil Greenzweig Human Rights Award to Yesh Din founders Ruth and Paul Kedar and to the family members of Nir Katz who was killed in the summer shooting that took place in the Gay and Lesbian Youth Center in Tel Aviv.
"Today I see many groups of people, people who believe they can change the world, people who work selflessly to help others without looking for headlines and congratulations. That is Nir's life message," said Ayala Katz, after receiving the award in Nir's name.
"I was educated on the principles of freedom and equal rights and tried to educate my own children in the same wayâ€¦ I urge you to take Nir's example and pass it on." she said.
"Take a look around you, look at all the flags, how different and pretty they are. Look at the people, who came from all over the country. We are different, but today our differences bring us closer together," said ACRI director, Hagai El-Ad. "Sixty one years ago the United Nations general assembly declared that all human beings are free and deserving of equal rightsâ€¦. Today, in this square, there is a spirit of brotherhood. Today, in this square, we are all equal, but it is forbidden that these values remain here in the square. We have an opportunity to bring human rights to the forefront. If we learn how to use our combined strength, no one will be left an outcast or an outsider and we will all be able to be proud of being members of an Israeli society that is democratic and holds human rights at the forefront."
Others who spoke were Nazareth Mayor, Ramzi Jaraisy, journalist and television personality Merav Michali and New Israel Fund director, Yifat Biton. Following the march and the speeches was a concert that featured Hip Hop group HaDag Nachash, and singers Alma Zohar and Salam Abu Amana.
Notably absent from the march, were members of Israel's visible minorities. While there was a sizable Arab Israeli presence, there were only a small handful of migrant workers and asylum seekers and nearly no Ethiopian or other immigrants and zero Haredim. A vast majority of the protesters seemed to be 20 to 30-something Israeli urbanites.
During the event, right wing activists and residents of southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods calling for the deportation of foreign workers held a counter protest nearby.
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