TEL AVIV, (AFP) – Around 10,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Friday to protest against the rising tide of extremist sentiment in Israel that they warn is posing a growing threat to Israeli democracy.
The march, which organisers said included almost 1,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from Sudan, Somalia and other parts of Africa, was timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day.
More than 120 Israeli rights groups and NGOs joined the march, which was organised by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
As they marched through the streets to Rabin Square, demonstrators raised flags emblazoned with “Human rights apply to everyone” and “Let me live with liberty and dignity,” while others read: “Asylum seekers are not criminals.”
“It was a show of force by the human rights community in Israel marching in support of human rights, democracy and equality for all of Israel’s citizens,” ACRI’s executive director Hagai El-Ad told AFP.
“It was also an expression of protest against the rising tide of racism and about the government’s inaction in advocating equal rights,” he said.
“What has happened over the last 18 months is very serious. Wherever you look, there is discrimination,” El-Ad told AFP, saying it had been “a bad year for human rights” with increasing attempts to push through racist and anti-democratic bills.
“Democracy is under attack on every front. And attacks on democracy are coming from within the government itself.”
The second annual Human Rights March took place just days after several hundred Israeli rabbis reportedly signed a deeply-controversial manifesto calling on Jewish Israelis to avoid renting or selling property to non-Jews.
The letter, which was widely slammed as racist, was understood to be referring to Israel’s Arab minority.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined in the chorus of condemnation, there has been no move to discipline the signatories, most of whom are understood to be state employees.
Israel has 1.3 million Arab citizens – Palestinians who remained in the country after the creation of the Jewish state in 1948 and their descendants.