|Rabin Memorial Rally Galvanizes Concern for the Future of Israeli Democracy|
There was an infectious energy Saturday night as 70,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv on the 15th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Hundreds of Israelis posed with stickers across their mouths under a large "Don't Remain Silent – A Democratic Camp is Arising" banner at the southern entrance to Rabin Square. The enthusiasm to learn more about NIF’s campaign for freedom of speech and conscience reflected their concern for the ongoing threats to Israeli democracy.
Gali Volotsky holds up a placard saying "Don't Remain Silent, racism and incitement must stop."
Among those encountering NIF's efforts to combat the danger to Israeli democracy for the first time was Gali Volotsky, a journalist from Tel Aviv. She said, “The atmosphere in Israel today is worse than it was in the months leading up to Rabin’s assassination. Everybody who does not think like the government is delegitimized. If you say that the Arabs are not all our enemies then you become the enemy. I even feel this in arguments around the family table.”
NIF's presence was strongly felt at the Tel Aviv rally with banners declaring "You cannot murder democracy" seen in all corners of the demonstration and highly visible in the media coverage of the event. NIF was distinct from most organizations present in Tel Aviv in that it was promoting social values rather than a political party.
Meanwhile, at the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC, NIF staffers carried what was most likely the only English-Hebrew banner at the rally, which drew more than 200,000 people. “Sanity, sanity, thou shalt pursue” – an identical sign was carried in Tel Aviv – drew attention to the need for sanity, civil discourse and humanist values in both the United States and Israel. Dozens of attendees asked for buttons and brochures from NIF staff, and were pleased to hear about our efforts on behalf of democracy in Israel.
In Rabin Square, hundreds of Israelis, mainly young people, visited NIF’s information stall to ask for t-shirts and information, and NIF volunteers distributed over 20,000 flyers and stickers. Hundreds of new activists who have joined NIF in recent weeks were volunteering for the first time.
In the week of the rally, the thousands of friends on the Don't Remain Silent Facebook page more than doubled.
Uri Schleifer, a musician from Jerusalem, heard about the campaign on Facebook. He said, “In the name of so-called social unity, mouths are being closed. It is very reminiscent of the McCarthy era in the US. The Don’t Remain Silent campaign has given me a channel in which to speak out against the threat to freedom of expression.”
Baruch Roseman, a high-tech entrepreneur who immigrated to Israel earlier this year from San Francisco said, "What is happening is a wake-up call to all progressive Israelis to stand up and say we are pro-democracy and pro-peace."
On the eve of the rally, publication of NIF’s Democracy Index survey was widely featured in the Israeli media (article in Hebrew). NIF Israel Executive Director Rachel Liel was quoted saying that the Israeli public felt the atmosphere today was similar to before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and that 45 percent of Israelis considered another political assassination possible.
As the crowds dispersed at the end of the evening, several dozen Israeli youths spontaneously grabbed hold of NIF placards and marched through the streets. “You cannot murder democracy,” they chanted.