Tel Aviv protest Jan. 15, 2011 (Tal Cohen)
Israelis protest at a pro-democracy rally in Tel Aviv, January 15, 2011. Photo by Tal Cohen
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Thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv last night against the Knesset's recent decision to probe the funding sources of left-wing groups. The protesters, including activists from leftist and human rights organizations, marched under the banner of "Standing up for Democracy."

The organizers cited such issues as the "rabbis' letter" against renting or selling property to Arabs and legislative initiatives like the loyalty oath law, the community admission committees' law, the Nakba law and the prison sentence imposed on leftist activist Jonathan Pollak as additional reasons for the demonstration.

Organizers estimated more than 20,000 people participated in the demonstration.

Participants marched from Meir Park on King George Street to the plaza of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, chanting in support of democracy and free speech and against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Signs carried by demonstrators read "Awaiting Democracy," "Danger! End of Democracy Ahead," "Fighting the Government of Darkness" and "Democracy Is Screaming for Help," among other sentiments.

Speakers at the rally on the plaza included MKs from the Kadima, Meretz and Hadash parties and officials from Peace Now and other human rights organizations.

MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima ) called on left-wing organizations not to cooperate with the proposed ministerial committee of inquiry into the sources of various groups' funding, if it is indeed established, which he said exceeds the bounds of legislative authority.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ) said no one should be surprised if the incitement against Israeli human rights groups turns into action, and the persecution into knife blades and bullets.

"The majority opposes religious extremism, racist religious rulings and sickening incitement against foreign workers and anyone who is not loyal to Lieberman," Horowitz said. "And now human rights organizations are being burned at the stake."

He added that Netanyahu is encouraging racism in the Knesset, while his "loyal, obedient partner" Barak and the entire Labor Party are enabling the continued survival of "the most racist government in Israeli history."

Meanwhile, over 60 Israeli law professors have signed a petition against the Knesset's decision to investigate the funding sources of human rights groups operating in the country. The petition is to be sent to the legislature today.

The signatories represent a significant proportion of senior members of Israeli law faculties.

"Human rights organizations, including those that criticize Israeli policy, perform a vital function in Israeli democracy, as do similar organizations in every democracy worthy of the name," the petition said. "Through their painful and pointed criticism, these organizations place inappropriate and unlawful actions on the agenda, thus helping to prevent and reduce them."

The signatories to the petition include Prof. Hanoch Dagan, Dean of the Tel-Aviv University Faculty of Law; Prof. Barak Medina, Dean of the Hebrew University Law Faculty; Prof. Niva Elkin-Koren, Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Haifa; as well as law professors such as Amnon Rubinstein, Ariel Porat, Eyal Benvenisti, Neta Ziv, Frances Raday, Yoram Margaliot and Omri Yadlin.