Thousands of people attended the second annual International Human Rights Day march in Tel Aviv on Friday, organized by flagship NIF grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The event was an enormous success and dwarfed a demonstration by less than 100 right-wing counter-protesters.
Activists wearing NIF Israel’s “We Won’t Remain Silent" t-shirts and hats were prominent as the participants marched from Rothschild Blvd. to Rabin Square. Over 130 social change organizations participated as well as many individual Israelis. Signs and banners declared the shared concerns with the erosion of democratic values, the attacks on human rights organizations and the past year’s rising tide of racism. Included among the participants were many who rarely share the public stage: Bedouin from unrecognized villages, Sudanese refugees, environmental activists, and many more.
The rally in Rabin Square began with a minute's silence for the victims of the Carmel fire. ACRI President Sami Michael reiterated the necessity of such a gathering: "We do not know the cause of the fire but we do know that the government was negligent in protecting its citizens." He added, "We are here to uproot racism. We are here to close the widening social gaps."
Bedouin activist Amal Asana Al-Hajaj warned, "There are currently 17 bills being passed through the Knesset which involve discrimination against minorities. This march is a response to what is happening in the Knesset."
NIF President Naomi Chazan was received warmly. "This year has not been easy year for civil rights and human rights organizations in Israel," she acknowledged.
Below is the full text of her speech:
“We have undergone severe persecution, sometimes personal, because of our desire to achieve social equality, tolerance and justice. Not only we have been attacked - academia, the courts, artists of conscience and all who truly believe that the fundamental values of our democracy have also been subject to unprecedented attacks.
The past year has been one in which the Israeli legislature lost all restraint in a series of racist, contemptible and cruel legislation. It was a year in which many including state employed rabbis chose to incite the flames of hatred against non-Jews instead of educating about values and the love of man.
In the main it was a year in which the rift between the different peoples living in Israel deepened.
It was a year in which Israel’s Arabs and mainly their leaders were attacked as never before. It was a year in which the occupation of the Palestinian people only continued to expand while a peace agreement drifted further away.
But despite all these attacks, the past year gave us the answer, and in particular hope for a better future. Over the past year, we saw Israelis, men and women, who resolved not to relinquish the possibility of a different Israel. Throughout the country, they organized and embarked on struggles to stimulate inspiration to change the face of Israeli society.
This year, we saw determined young people lead an unprecedented struggle against the expulsion of migrant laborers - and they won.
We saw an exceptionally courageous man who dared to come out against racial discrimination at a school in Emmanuelle - and he won.
And we saw people of vision who confronted real estate developers to defend the beaches - and they won.
This year, we saw a small and determined group start a struggle against allocating the State’s resources to gas tycoons - and I hope that they will win.
This year we saw many activists struggling for the rights of the children of foreign workers and their request for asylum in our country.
This year we saw a group of young Israelis and Palestinians embark on a struggle against the eviction of families from Sheikh Jarrah, and even when they lost, they succeeded in sending up a strong and clear cry that we will not give up without a struggle.
And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the country, groups of citizens are organizing and struggling for Israeli society - and their victory will be our victory!
I am proud that NIF was a partner in some of these crucial struggles, and I tell you that NIF will continue to support in every way the struggle for a democratic, equal, and more just Israel.
Against all those that choose the way of hatred, incitement, violence and demonization, are pitted these heroes of civil society who have chosen not to give up on a better Israel. These people give us the hope to continue our struggle against the attacks and attempts to delegitimize us, and remind us that when we see discrimination or injustice, the most important thing is not to remain silent.
Because of them and for the future of all of us we say today in a loud voice -
We will not remain silent until Israel will be truly democratic, respect non-Jews and care about the disadvantaged.
We will not remain silent in the face of growing racism and violence in Israeli society.
We will not remain silent until there is an Israel of equality and justice and is a country that we want and feel is worthwhile living in.
Thanks to all the heroes who gave us inspiration over this past year and thanks to all of you who came here today. We will see each other again next year.”