Dozens of civil society, feminist, and anti-occupation groups form the ‘Council for the Protection of Freedoms’ to fight back against the government’s and public’s attacks against freedom of expression.
Representatives from over 30 civil society organizations gathered on Friday in Nazareth for the founding conference of the “Council for the Protection of Freedoms.” The council was established to fight back against the feeling among various organizations that their activities and freedom of expression are at risk. The goal will be to protect these freedoms from both the government as well as various tendencies among both Jewish and Arab society.
The conference organizers pointed to various examples in which these freedoms are being limited, including the nation-state bill, the cancellation of three events organized by left-wing NGO, Zochrot, the government’s new initiative to prevent left-wing NGOs from filing petitions to the High Court, the attacks on B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, etc. On Saturday, following pressure from a right-wing student group, Hebrew University cancelled an academic conference focusing on academic research on Palestinian prisoners.
The initiative is being organized by I’lam Media Center, which works to protect and promote the rights of Arab journalists and media institutions, and the Van Leer Institute. The initiative includes independent journalists, former judges, and dozens of human rights, feminist, and anti-occupation organizations. According to Shai Lavi, the head of the Van Leer Institute, the initiative will strive to bring in additional organizations of different kinds, including cultural, religious, and academic groups. The council will be headed by Kholod Massalha, a Palestinian journalist and projects coordinator for I’lam.
“Over the past few years there have been growing doubts over the most basic freedoms. The assumption is that we are in a new reality, which requires a new mode of action,” said Professor Amal Jamal, the head of I’lam and a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, during the conference’s opening remarks. “There is a process of normalizing attacks on human rights organizations. This was not part of our reality in the past, and the fact that organizations and activists are being criminalized is unusual and dangerous. Although we haven’t reached a point in which we cannot speak out at all, we must still act before we get there. This means we must go beyond the differences between us — and there are differences — for the sake of maintaining a pluralistic lifestyle.”
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