TEL AVIV (Dec. 2)
About 60,000 mainly young, liberal and left-wing Israelis packed the plaza outside the Tel Aviv Museum on Saturday night to protest a series of restrictive religious measures backed by the government which passed their first reading in the Knesset last week or will soon be introduced.
The size of the turnout was estimated by the organizers of the rally, Hemdat.
Hemdat, whose name is an acronym for “Freedom of Science, Thought and Culture,” is an umbrella body of 57 groups including left-leaning political parties, kibbutzim, Reform and Conservative organizations and Jewish humanist movements.
The protest began with a march from the Mann Auditorium to the museum. The marchers carried signs denouncing one bill that would impose new restrictions on Israel’s already tough abortion laws and another which would forbid the production and sale of pork in Israel.
Other measures attacked would virtually eliminate all forms of public transportation on the Sabbath and would censor what the Orthodox consider “lewd” advertising in the guise of an anti-pornography bill.
The legislation was the price demanded by the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party when it joined Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led coalition government on Nov.18.
Demostrators accused the government of surrendering to blackmail by the Orthodox minority.
Many posters referred to the fact that the Orthodox are exempt from service in the Israel Defense Force but demand heavy subsidies for attending yeshivot instead.
One speaker, Knesset member Amnon Rubinstein of the Center-Shinui Movement, denounced the “rape of the majority by the minority.” He called both Likud and the opposition Labor Party “willing victims of this rape.”
Although the crowd was overwhelmingly secular, there was a scattering of kipot to be seen, and older people mingled amicably with the predominantly youthful protesters.
Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor Hacohen, an Orthodox member of the Labor Party who is often described as its spiritual mentor, lashed out at the ultra-Orthodox. “The attempt to enforce the religious laws is ‘hilul hashem’ (desecration of the Holy Name),” he declared.
The demonstration, heavily guarded by police, was unmarred except for an accident when a billboard collapsed into a concrete-lined ditch, injuring eight youngsters who had climbed on it.