Leaders of protest movement launch 'second stage'

By MELANIE LIDMAN,
September 6, 2011 19:21

Advocates of social change plan to "maintain the energy and passion"; will focus on new budget which gives more funds to address social issues.

3 minute read.



Protest leaders speak in front of the Knesset

daphne leef stav shafir 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Leaders of the social movement protest which started in Tel Aviv launched the second stage of the movement on Tuesday in Jerusalem in front of the Knesset, in order to stress the importance of a wide-ranging government response to the protester’s demands.

The activists said they would focus on making sure the 2012 budget addressed serious funding gaps in social areas such as housing, education and health care.

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“They can’t flee from this power that brought half a million people to the streets on Saturday,” said Daphni Leef, who launched the protests on July 14. “We won’t be satisfied with crumbs.”

“There are serious lacks that need to be dealt with immediately, and they have one address: Where are you, Mr. Prime Minister?” asked Stav Shaffir, as she turned to face the Knesset.

Leaders insisted that despite the shift in focus away from tents and huge demonstrations with thousands of people, they will be able to maintain the energy and passion, even if the press loses interest. On Saturday, the movement will hold an event called “1,000 Round Tables,” with more than a thousand tables set up around the country to discuss the future of the struggle.

Activist Yonatan Levy said the protest leaders had decided to focus on changes to the 2012 budget because they saw a budget more geared toward social issues as the single most important step toward realizing their goals. He slammed the MKs for their silence during the summer-long protests and said that a new budget would be the best way to determine which ministers were serious about making social change.

“Only with a new budget will we really realize the demands of the country,” said Shaffir. “We don’t want to waste our time, committees will always be started,” she said, referring to the Trajtenberg Committee, which was set up by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in August to examine possible solutions to the social problems driving the nationwide protests.

The press conference was held as National Student Union head Itzik Shmueli, noticeably absent from the leader’s table, met with members of the Trajtenberg Committee, something that the other protest leaders have refused to do. Leef said that while they did not expect much from the Trajtenberg Committee, there are “a thousand groups with a thousand different opinions” within the protest movement, and insisted that it did not mean an irreparable split in ideologies.

“You have a historic mandate to bring change and we are expecting you to bring change,” Shmueli told the committee on Tuesday. “This committee can either be a historic one or just be another passing episode. We, the students, are trying to be a moderate and considerate force [in the protest] and are trying to help the protest remain powerful and legitimate in spite of the radical and extreme voices.”

Shmueli added that the students “had every reason in the world not to come to the committee, as there have been dozens of public committees in the history of Israel. We are ready and looking forward to the committee’s conclusions – which will not need to gain our approval, rather, that of the public.”

Among the recommendations of the alternative academic committee advising the protest leaders was an increase in commercial taxes, by raising the tax of business profits from 24 percent to 31% over the next several years, which could raise up to NIS 20 billion for the government to address social problems.

Avia Spivak, an economics professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and former deputy governor of the Bank of Israel, said that personal income tax could also be raised for the country’s wealthiest earners, to 55% for people with a monthly salary of NIS 80,000 or more. He added that Israel was not in the dire financial states of countries like Greece, and could increase the budget “without compromising anything.”

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