The nationwide social justice movement protest reached new heights on Saturday
night, as an estimated 300,000 people took part in demonstrations across the
Eini to workers: Join protest so we can bring change Tent-city
protesters vow to hold even larger demos In
Jerusalem, a little off the top with a lot of love
Tel Aviv was again the center of the protests, with more than
200,000 people taking part in a rally along the length of Rehov Kaplan in the
center of the city, in one of the largest demonstrations in the history of the
The nationwide protests were significantly larger than last
Saturday’s that brought between 150,000 and 200,000 Israelis into the streets,
surprising skeptics who doubted that the protests could increase in size for a
third week running.
The protests followed the Knesset vote on Wednesday
to approve the National Housing Committees Law, which places the authority for
approving building projects in the hands of regional committees. Activists had
called for the bill’s cancellation as a precondition to open dialogue with the
Following the vote, some organizers predicted that Saturday’s
protests would be the biggest yet, due to a feeling that the government wasn’t
listening to their demands.
Itzik Shmuli, head of the National Union of
Israeli Students, rebuked assertions that the movement has become partisan or
“We aren’t asking for a change of personnel in the
government or a change in the coalition in the parliament that was elected by
the people. We are young people who are demanding a change in the cruel economic
policies. We are demanding a personal economy over one that tramples, we are
demanding an economy that takes into consideration the suffering of people and
not one that only crunches numbers,” Shmuli said.
“We want a more correct
balance between the free market and the human economy. We are demanding serious
attention to closing social gaps and for a more far-reaching answer to be given
to the basic needs of the citizens of the country, in particular the country’s
Rabbi Benny Lau took to the stage and issued a call
for unity across Israel’s factitious society.
“I want to call all those
in our society, Jews and non- Jews, this tent has room for all... We feel that
this is an evening of tikkun (repair).”
Framing his remarks against the
backdrop of Tisha Be’av, which begins on Monday evening and commemorates the
destruction of the First and Second Temples, Lau said, “We want to found a state
based on social justice. We won’t let this struggle be about any single sector
in society or another, we all want social justice.”
In Jerusalem, more
than 20,000 people marched in a mass of humanity that stretched from Gan Hasus
(Horse Park), the center of the tent city, down Ben-Yehuda, across Independence
Park, and into Paris Square near the Prime Minister’s Residence.
feels like more than last week,” said Rivka, one of the activists who organized
the march, referring to last Saturday night’s protests that drew upwards of
150,000 demonstrators in marches across the country.
“We worked hard on
this all week, we really wanted to show [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu that
his behavior is unacceptable,” she said.
Rivka added that organizers were
worried the turnout would not be as big as last week and spent the past two days
blanketing the capital with flyers, including a special effort to reach out to
the religious community and hand out flyers at synagogue.
effectively shut down as crowds of people surged toward the city center from all
directions. A Christian youth group from South Korea singing spirituals, a small
chorus of soprano saxophones, and a dozen or so mimes joined students, parents,
toddlers, and grandparents.
“The students were the trigger but the
problem is general and affects every sector of society,” said Hagit Hovav, the
chairwoman of the Israeli Center for Social Justice, as she made her way to the
protest. “It started with the apartments, but all kinds of social problems
bubbled up from the ground.”
Speakers and performers in front of the
Prime Minister’s Residence included author Saed Kashua, the Ethniks band,
musician Mosh Ben-Ari, Jerusalem City Councilwoman Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim)
and representatives from the various groups protesting, including students and
leaders from the public housing protest.
“I live in the dorms, so I’m not
dealing with this problem right now, but I’m looking ahead, and I don’t know if
there will be another protest as big as this in the next five years,” first-year
medical student Yonatan Guberman said. “It says something good about the
country, we’re lucky we are waking up. Things can stay the same way for years...
Who knows if things will actually change now, but at least there’s the
Netanyahu plans to name a cabinet-level team on Sunday to
address demands by the demonstrators, who in less than a month have swollen from
a cluster of student tent-squatters to a diffuse, countrywide mobilization of
the nation’s burdened middle class.
Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon,
named by a Netanyahu spokesman as a likely member of the cabinet troubleshooting
team, said a solution was required even if it “cost billions” at a time when
Israel was watching the debt jitters of the United States and parts of
Interviewed by Israel Radio on Friday, Kahlon floated tax cuts
and a breakup of cartels to benefit the middle class.
“If anything, this
demonstration is a demonstration of trust in Netanyahu – though that may sound
upside-down: ‘Sir, we demand of you, we insist, you know how to, you are capable
of fixing this,’” Kahlon said, noting the lack of support for the centrist
But he faulted Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval
Steinitz for trumpeting Israel’s macroeconomic indicators.
“On the one
hand we say we have a strong economy, on the other hand large groups of people
are seeing that it is not reaching them. Hence the frustration and the outcry,”
he said.Reuters contributed to this report.