Peace Now at Tel Aviv Rally: Lieberman Threat Greater Than Iran

Protesters in Tel Aviv carry signs with slogans such as 'Danger! End of Democracy Ahead' in response to Lieberman's call to investigate funding sources of Israeli human rights groups.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Thousands of activists from left-wing movements and human rights organizations marched in Tel Aviv on Saturday in protest of the Knesset's decision to set up a committee of inquiry to probe the funding sources of leftist groups.

The protest march, under the headline "Demonstration (since it's still possible) for democracy", left from Tel Aviv's Meir Park toward the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, where a rally took place in which Knesset members from Kadima, Meretz, and Hadash as well as officials from Peace Now and human rights groups delivered speeches.

Protesters in Tel Aviv, Saturday, January 15, 2011.Credit: Tal Cohen

Protesters chanted in support of democracy and free speech, and carried signs with slogans such as "Awaiting Democracy", "Danger! End of Democracy Ahead", "Fighting the Government of Darkness" and "Democracy is Screaming for Help".

Peace Now Director-General Yariv Oppenheimer said during the rally that "the Lieberman threat" is more serious than the Iranian threat.

"The Lieberman threat should worry us all. It is a greater threat than Iran. We must go out and protest," said Oppenheimer.

Israelis protest at a pro-democracy rally in Tel Aviv, January 15, 2011.
Demonstration in Tel Aviv, Saturday, January 15, 2011.
Demonstration in Tel Aviv, Saturday, January 15, 2011.
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Israelis protest at a pro-democracy rally in Tel Aviv, January 15, 2011.Credit: Tal Cohen
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Demonstration in Tel Aviv, Saturday, January 15, 2011.Credit: Tal Cohen
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Demonstration in Tel Aviv, Saturday, January 15, 2011.Credit: Tal Cohen
Tel Aviv demonstration

Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit said: "I, like you, came here to protest this foolish and undemocratic action. I want to remind my friends in the Likud that [Ze'ev] Jabotinsky would turn over in his grave if he saw them supporting this action that is contradictory to his beliefs. This decision by the Knesset is offensive and dangerous to the state of Israel, causing grave damage to the name of the state, as it makes Israel one of the states of darkness."

Sheetrit called on leftist organizations to show contempt for the probe if it is established, since, according to him, the probe would be illegal and the Knesset would have exceeded its authority.

Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz spoke during the rally and said that no one should be surprised if the inciting words against Israeli human rights groups will turn into actions and that the persecution will turn into knife blades and bullets.

"We are here in opposition to religious radicalization, racist laws, and sickening incitement against foreign workers and against those who are not loyal to Lieberman. And now they are putting human rights organizations in the crosshairs. They don't want to investigate the Carmel fire, so what do they investigate? The free people."

Horowitz added that Netanyahu is to blame, since he is "encouraging the racist celebration in the Knesset." He addressed Labor chairman Defense Minister Ehud Barak, asking "How are you not ashamed Mr. Barak? You and your party are supporting and enabling the existence of the most racist government in the history of the State of Israel. You are responsible just as Liberman, Yishai and Netanyahu."

The executive director of The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hagai Elad, 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, McCarthyism and future destruction. We will continue to fight for democratic values, freedom of speech, equal rights for citizens and the end of the occupation."

Right-wing factions criticized the demonstration and its leftist organizers. MK Danny Danon (Likud), one of the initiators of the bill calling for a probe into human rights groups, said the protesters were "fighting for the democracy of foreign countries and not of Israel," and said that they are carrying out the protest solely for money.

MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) said that the protest would not aid the leftists. "Movements on the extreme left have proven that they are some of the people who would like to see the State of Israel destroyed. They are betraying the state and therefore there is no escape from taking steps against them. We will reveal that they are funded by enemy states and we will treat them like Hezbollah," said Ben Ari.

The Knesset plenum voted last week to order the House Committee to consider establishing a parliamentary panel of inquiry into left-wing Israeli organizations that allegedly participate in delegitimization campaigns against Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

Forty-seven legislators voted in favor of the motion while 16 voted against.

The initiative, brought forth by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu faction, called primarily to investigate the sources of funding for these groups. The panel will essentially be charged with looking into where these groups have been attaining their funds, particularly whether this money is coming from foreign states or even organizations deemed to be involved in terrorist activities.

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