Tel Aviv protest - Alon Ron - 22.11.2011
Protesters at a rally in support of freedom of the press, Tel Aviv, Nov. 22, 2011. Photo by Alon Ron
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Approximately 2,000 protesters rallied in Habima Square in Tel Aviv on Tuesday against the series of Knesset bills seen by them as draconian and anti-democratic.

The rally came after on Monday a contentious bill toughing Israel's libel passed its first hurdle in the Knesset, passing first reading despite vocal resistance from both opposition and coalition members.

The bill represents an amendment to Israel's existing libel law, which would make it possible to sue a newspaper for libel, not only for commensurate compensation for any tangible damage caused by the publication, but for an additional sum of NIS 300,000 − without having to prove damages.

Critics of the amendment believe this will hamper freedom of expression and the independent press.

After the Tuesday rally, hundreds of protesters began blocking roads, including the junctions of Rothchild Boulevard and Marmorek, and the corner of King George and Bograshov.

Police tried to clear the protesters and used pepper spray. One person was arrested, but the protesters are currently blocking the police car he was put into. The police is negotiating with the protesters. Seven protesters were arrested following the rally.

Attorney Talia Sasson, who in 2005 wrote a report on illegal outposts, said at the demonstration that “dark forces have risen upon Israel.”

According to Sasson, the recent wave of legislation “is not a change of parties in a democratic state, it is regime change. We should be trembling with fear… we must shout out the cry of Israeli democracy and not let up.”

Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz also spoke at the rally, saying that “we are facing a government that cannot stand a different voice. Not because the voice is dangerous, but because it is different. You may ask, why are being silenced? Why intimidate the media? To cover women, make them disappear? The goal of persecution is persecution, as George Orwell wrote in his book ‘1984.’”

Some protesters pasted tape on their mouths to protest the new amendment to the libel law, which dramatically raises compensation and is dubbed “the silencing law.” Yariv Oppenheimer, director of Peace now, said: “The Attorney General will not stop the legislation, not even Yair Lapid – it is us who will stop the legislation.”