Saturday, January 22, 2011

01-22-11 Mass Protest in Israel

From the Activist Newsletter: The massive protest in Tel-Aviv Jan. 15 against the right wing excesses of the Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu received scant attention in the United States, but it was a matter of considerable significance. An extremely broad coalition, from far left to center right showed up to denounce racism and attacks on civil rights and liberties. Following are two articles — the first from essentially left sources, the second from Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc.


Some 20,000 activists — Jews and Arabs — from various left-wing and progressive movements, parties and human rights organizations marched in Tel Aviv Saturday, Jan. 15,  to protest the Knesset's [parliament's] decision to set up a committee of inquiry to probe the funding sources of peace and human rights movements.

This decision is the latest of the right wing government's moves to abrogate civil and human rights.

The protest march of the informally named Democratic Camp, under the banner "Demonstration (since it's still possible) for democracy," left from Tel Aviv's Meir Park, in front of the Likud Party headquarters — the largest right wing party and leader of the right/far-right coalition government. They marched toward the plaza in front of the Museum of Art, where a rally took place in which Knesset members from Hadash, Kadima and Meretz as well as officials from Peace Now and human rights groups delivered speeches.

Protesters chanted in support of democracy and free speech and against racism and fascism, and carried hundreds of red flags and signs with slogans such as "Jews and Arabs together against Fascism," "Awaiting Democracy," "Danger — End of Democracy Ahead!," "Fighting the Rightist Government of Darkness" and "Democracy is Screaming for Help."  Among the parliamentarians taking part were Dov Khenin (Hadash), Afo Agbarie (Hadash), Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), Hanna Swaid (Hadash), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and Mohammad Barakeh (the Chairman of Hadash, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality).

Hadash is described as "a Jewish and Arab socialist front of organizations that runs for the Israeli parliament. It currently has four members in the 120-seat Knesset. The Communist Party of Israel (CPI) is a prominent member of the front." Meretz is considered a left-wing social democratic Zionist party. Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset, occupies the center-right though it fancies itself centrist, and is currently led by led by Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister during the Kadima government's December-January (2009) assault against people of Gaza.

A rally that includes Hadash and Kadima, as well as the dozens of left, peace, cultural, civil liberties and civil/human rights organizations all listed below, is broad indeed. It is an example of how oppositional forces of all kinds should unite in actions against the depredations of right/far right governments, as long as a shred of democracy remains to facilitate such an open front.

Hadash Chairman Barakeh said, "We are at a dangerous crossroads where democracy is concerned. Democracy is collapsing, not because of [ultra-right Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman but because of the support he is receiving from the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu]. Jews and Arabs who care about democracy cannot fail at this time. Anyone who wishes to know the power of the people can look to Tunisia.... The victory of the people in Tunis over cruel dictatorship teaches us that oppression is not the fate of mankind and the people can win."

Meretz's Horowitz inveighed against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whom he said were "supporting Lieberman's incitement and encouraging racist legislation in the Knesset.... Tonight we are telling the Labor Party [part of right wing coalition] that it is a full partner of the most racist government in state history, and that they must leave it immediately," he said.

Kadima'a Sheetrit denounced Lieberman's proposal to probe the funding sources of human rights organizations: "If such legislation is passed, it will be like taking a brick out of the wall of democracy. I am surprised that Likud members support this. It's simply shameful that they can sit in a government that makes such a proposal," he said.

Hadash's Khenin, who is a leader of the CPI, said during the protest that "the thousands of people who are here understand that our democracy needs protection against its destroyers. We are voicing a clear voice in support of human rights and democracy, and against racism, fascism, McCarthyism and future destruction of the democratic values. We will continue to fight for democratic rights, freedom of speech, equal rights for Jews and Arabs and the end of the occupation."

List of participating organizations in the Emergency rally:

Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality); Communist Party of Israel; ACRI (Association For Civil Rights in Israel; Meretz; New Israel Fund; Peace Now; The Kibbutz Movement; The Progressive Movement; The Green Movement; Physicians for Human Rights; The Geneva Initiative; Ha'Shomer Ha'tzair; Yisrael Hofshit (Free Israel); Coalition of Women for Peace; Public Committee Against Torture; Yesh Gvul; Shutafut/Sharakah - Organizations for a Shared, Democratic and Egalitarian Society: Agenda, The Abraham Fund, Negev Institute - NISPED, Sikkuy, Kav Mashve, Keshev, Shatil; Gush Shalom; Yesh Din; Almuntada Altakadumi - The Progressive Circle in Ar'ara; Negev Coexistence Forum; Peace NGO's  Forum; Amnesty International Israel.

Banki-Shabiba – Young Communist League; Hagada Hasmalit Alternative Cultural Center in Tel-Aviv; Tandi – Democratic Women's Movement;  Parents Circle – Families Forum; Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare; Arab Movement for Renewal; Mossawa Centre – the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel; Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights;  Machsom Watch; Tarabut-Hithabrut; Rabbis for Human Rights; Ir Amim; Maan – Workers' Advice Center; Daam – Workers Party; Syndianna Galilee for Fair Trade;  Israeli Children; Campus Le'Kulanu – Left Students Movement, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Haifa University; ASSAF - Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel; ICAHD - The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions; Social TV; Socialist Struggle; Labor Party Young Guard; HAMOKED – Center for the Defense of the Individual; BINA – Center for Jewish Identity, Hebrew Culture and Social Justice; AIC – Alternative Information Center; Our Heritage - The Charter for Democracy.


By Gush Shalom (the Peace Bloc)

"The Slumbering Majority wakes up" proclaimed large signs as the human river flowed from the entrance to the Gan Meir Park to the streets. Later on, Knesset Member [KM] Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz would proclaim from the podium to the crowd overflowing the Museum Plaza: "Look around you: We are not small and we are not weak, and we have no reason whatsoever to despair!"

In recent years, this part of the Israeli society indeed often felt isolated and marginalized. Often, the dominant atmosphere in its demonstrations was of a brave challenge flung out by those determined to swim against an overwhelming tide. The' Jan. 15 change in atmosphere was brought about precisely by the most audacious manifestation to date of nationalistic aggression: The resolution to launch an "investigation" of the peace and human rights organizations, which was initiated by Avigdor Lieberman and his Knesset emissaries and passed by a large majority, and which followed upon the "Loyalty Oath Bill" and "Admissions Committees Bill" and various other notorious judicial initiatives which have been proliferated uncontrollably in the current Knesset.

It was their manifest arrogance, their feeling that they can stain Israel's law books with any piece of racist or anti-democratic [legislation] they choose, which aroused the people who had stayed home in recent years. A sense of urgency, a sense that it might be the last moment to build a counter-force and try to change the direction of the murky stream. "Demonstrate! Get out into the streets - as long as it is still possible!" read the demonstration calls put out by the Democratic Camp, which spread rapidly across the net.

"No, no, no - Fascism will not pass!" echoed the old familiar chant along King George Street – and was answered with a new and more ominous one: "People, wake up! - Fascism is passing right now!." "Democracy cries out: Help," read a big placard and the next one had "The Murder of Democracy in Israel - a Foreknown Crime!" "Racism? We don't raise our hands!" read the posters prepared by Mossawa Center, one of the organizations targeted in Lieberman's investigation. Another long-threatened group, the New Israel Fund, provided signs with "Investigate me, too!" and "We will not shut up!" A young woman held up a sign with the words "A Leftist in the Crosshairs" with a target board drawn besides. "Yesterday I sat for an hour at home until I made it exactly as I wanted, I always prefer to make my own sign then to have a printed one."

"A Leftist Patriot" read a new sticker made by Peace Now ahead of this demonstration. Israeli national flags fluttered above the marchers, as well as Blue- and-White flags with the Star of David replaced by the big word "Peace." Protesters with a different political orientation raised Palestinian flags, and one of them stopped to wave the flag ostentatiously in front of the Metudat Ze'ev Likud headquarters. (Later, holders of Palestinian flags were detained by police, who apparently forgot that since the Oslo Accords this is no longer a crime in Israel - or maybe the police is expecting new guidelines soon?) And there were in the march the Gush Shalom signs showing the two flags together, Israeli and Palestinian, and the Red Flags of the Communists and the Green ones of Meretz, and drumming by several of the regular demonstrators at Sheikh Jarrah, and someone was also blowing a trumpet. Very prominent in their absence were any marchers with a sign identifying them as Labor Party adherents - though there were probably quite a few among the crowd who had still voted Labor in the last elections.

"I am Yonathan Pollak" read large signs, as did smaller black stickers which many wore on their shirts. The call for the release of Pollak - imprisoned for participating in a cycling protest two years ago – was voiced also by many people who had never come to demonstrate against the Separation Fence in the fields of the village of Bil'in together with Pollak and his fellows. The Hithabrut-Tarabut movement provided signs entitled "Release the Political Prisoners," where Yonathan Pollak was mentioned alongside Nuri el-Okbi, the Bedouin Rights activist sent to jail on charges of "running a business without a license" as well as Israel Bondak of Jerusalem, veteran of the Israeli Black Panthers and the only one, among many operators of "pirate" radio stations, to be sent to prison for his broadcasting activities.

"Jews and Arabs - Refuse to be Enemies!" read many signs, and the words were shouted loud and clear when the march wound its way up the old section of Dizengoff Street. The blend of accents among the voices testified that these were indeed Jews and Arabs who were chanting it together, again and again and again.

Those who walked in the later parts of the march encountered an unpleasant surprise at the Museum Plaza: police motorcycles parked to make a makeshift blockage and completely sealed off the entrance stairs. "No more allowed in, the square is full. Danger!" announced a grim-faced police officer.

Many of the demonstrators did not accept the prohibition, and they found roundabout ways, climbing concrete fences and pushing their way into the crowd already filling the square. "We already have been fifteen thousand people in the square, we ask the police to stop blocking our friends who want to join" said the voice from the loudspeakers. About fifteen minutes later, the declaration "We are now above twenty thousand!" was greeted with applause.

It was clear that the list of speakers had been assembled with a view to present a wide range of speakers - Jews and Arabs, men and women, moderates and radicals, Communists and Liberals, Zionists and anti-Zionists and non-Zionists....

"There is no cliche more outworn than 'The Occupation Corrupts' - and equally, there is no truth which is still as clear and pure as on the day it was first uttered" stated Hadash KM Muhammad Barake. "Those who deluded themselves that the suffocating oppression of the Palestinian people would always stop at the Green Line were proven very wrong and mistaken. Now, this oppression is coming here, and we all feel the tangible threat. It is by no means certain that a demonstration such as this would still be possible a year from now. But we who stand here in this plaza, Arabs and Jews, Jews and Arabs together in the struggle against galloping fascism, we can win! Yes, we can win, as the people of Tunis just yesterday won a heroic struggle against sinister tyranny!"

Attorney Bana Shoughry-Badarne of the Public Committee against Torture, speaking on behalf of the threatened human rights organizations, gently chided those who did not feel danger as long as its victims were mainly among the Palestinians. "More than a decade ago, when I first started to be active, all the phenomena were already highly visible: political detentions, killing of civilians, the expropriation of land, all the forms of oppression. But some people thought that since they belonged to the dominant ethnic group, the tyranny of the majority will not touch them. Now it is obvious that a country which does not define itself as the State of All its Citizens cannot have real democracy. We did not come here to demonstrate against an ephemeral inquiry, which is supposed to discover sources of funding that are open and visible to anyone bothering to surf the web sites of the organizations concerned. We are demonstrating against occupation and oppression and discrimination, for solidarity and for basic human and civil rights to all." (Prolonged chanting "Human Rights - For All! For All! For All!")....

"Two weeks ago, Israeli women won a great victory, and the victims of the rapist and sexual abuser Moshe Katzav were vindicated in court. Yet the patriarchal governmental structure which rules over us has chosen this very moment to launch an offensive in a different direction" said feminist activist Dorit Abramovitch. "We have in this country a White Male Jewish regime, harking back to the romanticized comradeship of the 1948 fighters, a regime which was established long before Lieberman or Bibi appeared on the scene. As a feminist I am committed to pointing out the inextricable connection between governmental violence, occupation and sexual oppression. They are all part and parcel of the same. I want to say something that is not agreed by everybody here: There cannot be a Jewish and Democratic state - the two contradict and are incompatible with each other. The Palestinians in Israel never had democratic rights. We should not talk about restoring the glories of an old democracy, we should create a new democracy which until now never existed."

In terms of immediate political impact, the most significant and most unexpected speaker was MK Meir Sheetrit of the Kadima Party – which so far had taken, to say the least, a most ambiguous position towards the Lieberman initiatives. He declared: "Jabotinsky [the late Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky] is turning in his grave to see Likud members support this piece of anti-democratic folly. Jabotinsky always opposed the tyranny of the majority, always declared that the individual who courageously stands against the crowd is a king. What has possessed these Likud people to let Lieberman draw them to the extreme right? The Knesset does not have any authority to conduct such an investigation.... I want to announce here that Kadima decided on a strict party discipline. The next time the issue returns to the Knesset plenum, we will all oppose it, unanimously! (Applause)

At this revelation, a mustached, white haired man standing on the side said: ""Many years ago I was active on the Left in France. Among us in Paris we used to say: 'When you see the opportunists suddenly come over to your side and join you, it seems that the wind is changing direction.'"