An estimated 300,000 took to the streets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other towns and cities across Israel on Saturday and called for social justice and lower living costs. Middle-income Israelis are demanding that the government address their needs for for affordable housing, fuel, food, electricity and childcare.
Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has been forced to respond to the wide-scale protests and called for the creation of a committee of senior officials to “listen to the distress” and suggest action. Last month, he had announced a series of measures to address the housing shortage; protesters have labelled these insufficient. The Guardian notes that, according to some observers, he may try to wait out the protests until September, when the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations will very likely “dominate the political agenda.” While the Palestinians are Netanyahu’s “familiar foe,” the Israeli social justice protesters are seen as an “unknown force.”
Israel has low unemployment and “relatively healthy economic growth.” But food prices have increased almost 13 percent since 2005, says the Guardian, with many spending more than half their income on rent or mortgages, while wealth and corporate power are highly concentrated in the hands of a few. Israelis also live with high rates of taxation even as social services are decreasing and the gap between rich and poor is growing, says the New York Times:
Ayelet Kol, a 37-year-old graphic designer in Tel Aviv, said she has been fighting a losing battle to get by financially even though she downsized into a one-room studio apartment, canceled her gym membership and cable subscription and has entirely cut out meeting friends at restaurants.
“Until now most people thought it was their fault that they could not get by,” she said, “but now they are realizing it’s hard for everyone and that they are not alone.”
What began as a few tents pitched in Tel Aviv has become a movement in 40 locations across Israel with daily demonstrations and roadblocks. Activists are planning to have a million marching in 50 different different cities next month.
The video shows a group of single mothers leading a protest Sunday morning (August 7) in front of the Jerusalem office of Amidar, one of Israel’s public housing companies. The women have been living in tents in a park nearby for over two weeks to protest the high cost of housing.
Tamar Hermann, of the Israel Democracy Institute, says that the protests are some of the largest ever in Israel and commented especially on their “heterogeneous nature,” with young people, retirees and families are all marching. She describes Israelis as “not devastated but discontented” and notes that analogies can be “drawn between the Arab spring and the Israeli summer”:
“Israelis generally want to disassociate themselves from the Middle East, culturally, politically and economically. But obviously they have watched Tahrir Square as well as events in Spain and Athens.
“Protest is a phenomenon which often spills over national borders. This fits into a new wave of street protests that we are now seeing all over the world, including the Middle East.”
In the Jerusalem Post, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the protesters’ grievances were legitimate, but warned against moving away funding from the defense sector to housing and social programs.
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Photo taken July 31 in Tel Aviv by boellstiftung