One of the more interesting and bizarre events connected to the Tel Aviv March for International Human Rights occurred just one day before the event. Im Tirzu, a far-right group that has spearheaded the campaign against Israeli human rights groups over the past year, sent out a press release announcing their intention to participate in the march, under the slogan “A Jew has human rights too.”
Im Tirzu led scurrilous campaigns against Israeli human rights groups, trying to intimidate and de-fund them. The most infamous case was that of Prof. Naomi Hazan, director of the New Israel Fund, whom they caricatured, threatened and vilified. ACRI was also a target of Im Tirzu’s campaign, which seemed to be well-coordinated with a number of similar organizations.
And so Im Tirzu’s announcement seemed bizarre, to put it mildly. Here was an organization that had for over a year devoted its energies to undermining and attacking the human rights community, announcing its intention to march with them on International Human Rights Day. Was this a joke? How did they feel their human rights had been violated?
In the spirit of its mandate and its ethos, ACRI’s response to Im Tirzu was something along the lines of the great Enlightenment figure Voltaire’s famous saying, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
And in the end, only a few dozen Im Tirzu supporters showed up at the march, and the police kept them separate, treating them as counter-demonstrators. There was no violence – not even of an exchange of verbal violence.
The fabulous satirical site The Onion once published a piece entitled, ACLU defends Nazis’ rights to burn down ACLU headquarters. Money quote:
Making the case all the more controversial is the neo-Nazis’ demand that the ACLU’s entire 315-person staff be in the building at the time of the blaze. Strongly opposing the request are New York City police commissioner William Bratton, fire chief Ed Holm and mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who said that all 315 will die if trapped in the 47-story building during the blaze. ACLU attorneys responded that they will request a federal appeals hearing if the City of New York attempts to stop them and their fellow ACLU employees from perishing in the Nov. 25 blaze.
The Onion piece is funny because it is a wild exaggeration; if it were closer to the truth, it would not be funny. And if we are going to talk about who is confused, I would direct your attention to the photograph below, taken by photographer Mati Milstein (click here to view more of his amazing photos). I’ve posted Mati’s description of the photo, as well.
The far-right Im Tirzu movement prepares to participate in the International Human Rights Day march in Tel Aviv. The activist on the right, who wears both a Jewish skullcap and a Palestinian keffiyeh, holds a sign reading “A Jew also has human rights.”
System Ali is a Palestinian-Israeli hip hop group based in Jaffa. They sing in Arabic, Hebrew, Russian and English. They were the opening act at the Rabin Square rally for human rights following the march; and looking at that incredibly talented, energetic ensemble composed of men and women and Palestinians and Jews, creating their own reality of co-existence or bi-nationalism or whatever you want to call it, I thought to myself, What a great example for the Middle East to follow.Read More
The African refugees were the stars of the march for human rights in Tel Aviv. They formed the largest contingent by far, and they caught everyone’s attention with their continous rhythmic chant of “We are refugees!” They held signs with simple, poignant messages: “We do not belong in prison”; “we need help”; and “we need protection.”Read More
Sami Michael, a renowned novelist who is also the President of ACRI, was born and raised in Baghdad. He learned Hebrew as an adult, arriving in Israel shortly after the state was founded, and he writes his novels in Hebrew, but his native language is Arabic. He often describes his great love of Arabic, his love for Iraq and his pride in his Iraqi heritage; in the same vein, he speaks of his love for Israel and his pride in its accomplishments.
At Rabin Square, following the March for Human Rights, he opened the events with a speech that he gave partly in Arabic.The audience included many native Arabic speakers – Bedouin from the Negev who had come to protest the destruction of their homes, Palestinian-Arab-Israelis from the Galilee and MKs Mohammed Barakeh and Ahmed Tibi. As Sami Michael, the Iraqi-Jewish-Israeli, spoke about peace and acceptance in their shared native language, one could feel a surge of emotion – and then hear the warmth of the applause.
Below is a scan of the text Sami Michael read, written in his own hand, and underneath that is a translation.
And to the Palestinian people and I say that our future is inevitably a shared future. Despite the voices that call for enmity, there is a wide public that wishes to live in peaceful coexistence.
Sadly the moderate majority has been stricken by the ailment of silence. We are here to say that our voice is shared, as our path is shared.
Either we die together or we live together. We are here to announce that we have chosen life.
As promised, we have collected photos taken at the march and the rally at Rabin Square and posted them online. We will continue to add more photos as they come in from various sources. All are available, as long as there is fair use (credit to the photographer).
Click here to view the album.Read More
On Friday, 10 December, an estimated 10,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv for human rights. The striking diversity of the participants made the politicians’ constant repetition of the phrase ‘Jewish state’ sound like a wish rather than a reality. There were Muslim and Christian Palestinians, Jews, religious and secular, gay and straight, African refugees from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. Some were refugees, but they all live and work in Israel – all are threads in the social fabric of this country.
There was a feeling of warmth and goodwill at that march; Yuval Ben-Ami compares it to a Friday afternoon family gathering – complete with ‘annoying relatives’ (a few dozen right-wing protesters who somehow managed to make the Israeli flag look like a weapon and classic Israeli folk songs sound violent). Friends greeted one another with hugs and kisses as demonstrators chanted lustily and passing drivers honked their horns in support. Human rights, after all, is such a broad, inclusive term that it’s easy to express support.
But then, while listening to the Palestinian-Israeli hip-hop group System Ali perform at Rabin Square in Hebrew and Arabic, I read on Twitter, via Joseph Dana, that the IDF was laying siege to the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh. Soldiers were shooting long range tear gas canisters directly at unarmed demonstrators, at a dangerously close range. They were using live ammunition to quell peaceful villagers who only wanted the land confiscated by settlers returned to them. All of this was happening just a few minutes’ drive from Rabin Square, in the West Bank. In Israel the police protect peaceful demonstrators that are organized by large organizations; but in the West Bank, just a short drive away, the police beat, shoot and arrest peaceful demonstrators.Read More