Thousands protest 'gov't attack on democracy' in TA

Netanyahu: Knesset panel should also probe funding of right-wing NGOs; 3 protesters taken into custody for different offenses.

tel aviv left protest 311 (photo credit: AP)
tel aviv left protest 311
(photo credit: AP)
In one of the largest left-wing protests in recent years, some 10,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday to demonstrate against what organizers called a growing attack on democracy in Israel.
Chanting “[Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman go home” and “Human rights for everyone,” among other slogans, demonstrators marched from the city’s Meir Park to the Tel Aviv Museum, where a rally was held.
The protest was not free of incident, as police arrested three people for various offenses. One man was detained for possession of a knife, a woman was detained for attacking a police officer and a man arrested for disturbing the peace.
The three were questioned at the Lev Tel Aviv police station.
After the protest, a fracas with police broke out on the corner of Kaplan and Ibn Gvirol streets.
Mounted police and officers from the Yasam anti-riot unit cleared the crowd within a few minutes. No injuries were recorded.
A large police presence continued throughout the protest. “The Skunk” – an armored truck that fires putrid-smelling water at protests usually held in the West Bank – stood parked on Rehov Shaul Hamelech.
The event brought together activists from over 50 organizations, as well as several MKs including Daniel Ben-Simon, who resigned from the Labor Party this week, Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz, and Meir Sheetrit from Kadima.
Sheetrit told the crowd that revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky “would be turning over in his grave” if he saw the steps the Likud-led government was taking.
In addition, he criticized calls to probe left-wing organizations, and advised attendees not to cooperate with authorities if they are called in for questioning, saying that the committee of inquiry has no legal or moral authority.
While the demonstration had a strong anti- Lieberman theme, the loudest jeers for any Israeli leader were reserved for Defense Minister and Labor head Ehud Barak. His name was greeted with a deafening chorus of boos when Horowitz asked: “Are you not ashamed of yourself?” during a rousing speech at the closing rally. In his remarks, Horowitz said “The fish is rotten at the head, and the head is [Prime Minister] Binyamin Netanyahu.”
The rally was held less than a week after the Knesset voted 41 to 16 to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry to probe the foreign financing of Israeli organizations. The bill, sponsored by MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu), will examine international sources of funding for specific left-wing groups that the bill says “aid the delegitimization of Israel through harming IDF soldiers.”
However, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed a Channel 2 report on Saturday night that Netanyahu had proposed a compromise to the controversial bill, in which the parliamentary committee will only check foreign governments and not foreign individuals or organizations. In order to ensure transparency, the committee will check all NGOs, not just left-wing ones.
Likud MK Danny Danon, who was one of the initiators of the parliamentary inquiry, said he had no problem with organizations on the Right being investigated. He said the proposal did not single out leftist organizations in the first place.
An Israel Beiteinu spokesman said he had no comment on the proposal, because the Prime Minister’s Office did not inform Lieberman or his party ahead of the report.
The spokesman said Lieberman made a point of not differentiating between leftand right-wing organizations in his press conference last week in which he defended the formation of the parliamentary committee.
Not all of those in attendance were from Tel Aviv, including Ofer Sapir, 40, from Rehovot, who came to the city to voice his concerns about the domestic state of affairs.
“What brought me here is the push for investigations against left-wing organizations.
It’s a warning light that reminds us of events in the past.” Sapir, who said he considers himself “center-left,” added that he doesn’t agree with everything that the Left says, but that the hypocrisy of the NGO investigations bill drove him to come. He also said that while he doesn’t think Israel is in a dire situation where democracy is in serious danger, “things can always decline quickly.”
Another demonstrator, Danny Greenblatt, came to Tel Aviv on one of three full buses bringing protesters to the city from Haifa on Saturday.
Greenblatt said he and others made the long haul because of “the dangerous developments taking place in Israel,” adding that he believes the country’s democratic system is in danger.
Mark Garson, a 68-year-old Jewish tourist from Boston, said he and some friends came to the rally after hearing about it on the Internet. Garson said that he came to “show solidarity with our friends in Israel who are facing fascist forces.” Garson added that he’s “very concerned about Israel, they are very clearly moving away from democracy.”
Tamar Zandberg, from the Meretz faction in the Tel Aviv City Hall, said the demonstration was held because “over the past year there has been a wave of fascism in Israel that reached its peak with the investigations against left-wing NGOs.” Zandberg said the demonstration, the biggest she’d seen in Tel Aviv in years, proves “that the public isn’t fascist, it’s the government that’s fascist.”
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.