03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Thousands Join Together in Israel's First Human Rights March

In an unprecedented show of strength, diversity, and optimism, more than 5,000 people marched together in Tel Aviv on December 11, in Israel's first Human Rights March. More than a hundred organizations - many of which had previously never cooperated - came together for the march and rally, and, as the Jerusalem Post reported,

"there were a wide variety of them, from Transsexual's gender rights to senior citizen's judicial rights; from those calling for more bicycle lanes to those calling to stop the deportation of foreign workers. Protesters demonstrated against both ongoing injustices, like the Gaza siege or structured discrimination against Arab Israelis, and current events, like the biometric database or Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's recent statements about his desire to instill halachic principles in the justice system."

2009-12-13-IMG_2178.jpgThe campaign leading to the march was led almost exclusively online; it was described by the Coteret blog as

"a superb job of mobilization, using, for the first time in Israel, modern techniques developed by the Democratic Netroots"

In four weeks we reached close to 35,000 individuals on facebook, and approximately 10,000 visited our dedicated blog (

The mass rally at the end of the march, in front of the Tel Aviv Museum, featured speeches by Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy, journalist Merav Michaeli, New Israel Fund boardmember Dr. Yifat Biton, Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) president and author Sami Michael, and the recipients of ACRI's Emil Greenzweig Human Rights Award: Yesh Din founders Ruth and Paul Kedar, and Nir Katz who was killed in the shooting at the Gay and Lesbian Youth Center in Tel Aviv. Ayala Katz, Nir's mother, received the award in his name.

As ACRI's executive director, I had the honor of being one of the speakers; here is what I said:

I want to invite us all to take a minute: look around you, notice the people, and feel the atmosphere. Look around. Look at our flags, how different and beautiful they are. Look at the people here, who came from Yeruham and Nazareth, Jaffa and Jerusalem, the Galilee and Tel Aviv, and I wish they could also join us from Hebron. We are different, but today our differences bring us closer together.

We were told that there is no way we will ever unite around a shared cause, but today we have already marched a distance together. We were told that the olim from Ethiopia will continue to struggle alone, that the Palestinians are all enemy. That LGBTs will remain in the closet, that equality for women is a matter only for half of us. That people with disabilities should get along on their own, that environmental justice matters only if you're green, and that social justice is for the poor, the unemployed, the weak.

2009-12-13-IMG_2307.jpgAnd this is partly true: for we are really weak when we fight separately, and we are poor when our vision's horizon is cut short. And we are gradually losing the great struggle for our democracy, for a life of common dignity, equality, and justice. And there is no way we can let ourselves lose.

Today, here, at our first human rights march, we are not weak, and our vision is human and far-sighted, and we are not alone - for our values are owned by all of us. What exactly do they not understand, the people who brought us the Nakba Law and the biometric database, the deportation of children of migrant workers, the privatization of welfare services, and the separation regime in the occupied territories? What word in "all human rights for all people" do they not comprehend?

Sixty-one years ago, when the horrors of World War II have not yet dulled, on December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Today, in this square, there is a spirit of brotherhood. Today, in this square, we are all equal. But these values must not be confined to this square, during this rally. Here lies our opportunity: that for Israeli society, preserving human rights can be an opportunity. An opportunity that human rights will be a shared value for all of us, without compromising our personal identity or our communal belonging. Beyond all the differences that separate us, human rights are common to us all. If we can realize this unconditionally, all of us could share a sense of pride in being a part of Israeli society, as part of a substantive democracy that safeguards the human rights of all.

During the last year we watched with longing eyes how the precarious democracy that was built here receives blow after blow. It is not a theoretical matter: it causes real suffering to real people whose dignity and rights are trampled. We must not continue in this manner. We are here today to change course.

During the last year it became customary that if one dared protest, or dared be Arab, he or she would be accused of disloyalty. And we are here to ask: loyal to what, exactly? Here, we are thousands together, not afraid to come out with our statement of loyalty. Here it is: We are loyal to equality, social justice, human rights, democracy. These are our values, this is the fabric of our common life and what makes us all responsible for one another. No one will take this from us, no matter how inciting, violent, or pessimistic will be those who preordain us to a future whose brutality is carved with more suffering, discrimination, and injustice. We refuse to subject our future to fear; simply, we are not afraid of a free and open society, of basic rights that everyone deserve on the most universal basis of all - our humanity.

Our march today is the result of the shared vision of almost a hundred and twenty organizations, associations, and groups. Many of us have never marched together, until today. Each of us fights in their own way all year long for human rights. Together, we are Israel's civil society - and we are not only legitimate, we are essential for the existence of democracy. Today we say: until all human rights for all human beings are guaranteed, our struggle will not end. The hundreds of activists who are here today amongst the thousands in audience are those who carry the burden of our common values. If there is a reason that the reality in which we live is less evil, it is thanks to them. The march today is their work, their success - and our hope for the future of us all.

In an hour or so we will each return home. We are many thousands here, but we can reach many more people, bringing them our shared strength. When you return home - and those of you who can, even right now - write what you feel, what you saw, part of what you were. Post photos, blog impressions, tweet emotions. Our public space here at the Tel Aviv museum square must reverberate online. The march was in our feet, the echoes online are at your fingertips.

I look with apprehension to our future, and think about this place, our common homeland, that is so dear to my heart, that from all its wings we gathered here today. Martin Luther King, who marched at another time and place, said: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Today, we are neither quiet nor silent, and what we will remember from this day is not the silence of the majority that insists to remain mute, but the voices of our friends, the strength of our humanity, and the endless possibilities that a vision of human rights promises us all.

We live in a new world. Wherever we look, we see hopeful examples of people who braved their differences for a common future of equality. America's legacy of slavery is its past and the future is led by a black president. In South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Berlin people have made happen what seemed impossible. Why what others have accomplished could not we? It is possible here too. Let us gather together the power of our common voices for the basic principle of human rights for all. Let us continue towards the realization in this land of the vision of human rights - for ourselves and for all people.