Im Tirtzu protesters
Im Tirtzu protesters Israel news photo: Yoni Kempinski

Dozens of law students from Tel Aviv University demonstrated on Sunday against what they termed the “anti-democratic legislation” recently passed by the Knesset.

The Knesset has recently approved several bills which have been criticized by the left. Some of them involve changes in the way appointments are made to the Supreme Court, while others would limit the funding that political non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may receive from foreign governments and international bodies.

In both cases, the left has claimed that the bills are anti-democratic and anti-constitutional (though Israel has no constitution). The NGO bills would deprive it of much of its power, since foreign government funding is the source of many of the left’s public relations campaigns and lobbying groups.

Ont of the bills dealing with the Supreme Court would allow Judge Grunis, who is opposed to judicial activism, to be Chief Justice. Another might allow nationalists to serve as Supreme Court justices, another fact which is extremely upsetting to the left. A third, appointing a legislative committee to review appointments, has been postponed at the Prime Minister's intervention.

The leftist demonstrators were holding black balloons and claimed that the Israeli government is diverting the public discourse away from human rights and focusing on the funding of human rights organizations.

Several minutes after the start of the demonstration, representatives of the nationalist Im Tirtzu organization showed up and held up a large sign which read “Stop Subversion!”

A verbal confrontation ensued, with Im Tirtzu’s members pointing out that the new bills contribute to promoting democracy and prevent external interference in the State’s internal political affairs.

“The message of this protest was that we have to preserve human rights and the defense of human rights in Israel,” Yaniv, one of the leftist protesters, told Arutz Sheva. “We must sustain the independence of the court system in Israel. There are many laws that are arising from the Knesset that threaten the very existence of Israeli democracy. We want to ensure the continuity of freedom of speech.”

Tal Kopel of Im Tirtzu stressed the importance of having all voices heard.

“I want them (the leftists –ed.) to hear our voice, not just their one dimensional voice,” he said. “We want diversity. Diversity is a very important word in democracy, and when I think about it, we’ve done it pretty well.”

Kopel rejected the claims that the latest legislation is against the left, and suggested that anyone who thinks that should read the laws carefully.

“I would recommend that they read the laws and see that they talk about political intervention – not right or left,” he said. “I see that the left says these laws are not democratic and I say to myself that if only the left thinks like that, maybe there is a correlation with the fact that only the left receives money from foreign countries. Is this democracy, that foreign countries amplify the voice of the left? This is not democracy.”

Yaniv’s response was that the question of foreign intervention in Israeli affairs is a legitimate one, but he claimed that the new legislation “is only against the human rights organizations and the left side of the political spectrum.”

“There are more donations by private donors to the rightist organizations that aren’t being banned,” he claimed. “This is undemocratic.”

He failed to note that the danger to Israel is in foreign governments, not private donors, affecting public opinion and policy through funding of public relations campaigns.