Thousands rallied in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday evening, and in cities
around the country, in the largest “social justice” protest held since last
summer’s wave of cost-of-living demonstrations.
The rally was held in
conjunction with “May 12” protests in cities around the world to mark the
beginning of the social justice struggle in Spain one year ago. On May 12, 2011,
the first tents sprung up in Spain’s major cities, the first country with major
The event had more of a festival atmosphere than the
protests last summer in Israel. Unlike those mass rallies, there were no central
speeches by the leaders, rather a free-flowing “Hyde Park” arrangement, in which
unnamed speakers took to the stage and passed a microphone, reading lines from
statements on social justice and achieving a “more just society.”
declarations were nebulous and at times hard to follow, with speakers railing
against the “treachery of the banks,” the cost of cottage cheese, “the school
system that taught us to compete to be cogs in a machine,” and reading
lamentations toward a society that has “begun worshipping the god of money, and
the golden calf.”
Those statements followed a performance by a rock band
led by a vocalist who took to the stage in a large bunny mask, and in the
interlude a woman in an evening gown with an exposed brassiere began pelting the
crowd with what appeared to be chocolate Hanukka gelt.
The protest also
had many of the signs and symbols of the global “Occupy” movement, unlike last
summer’s protests, which focused mainly on a message of relief for the
embittered Israeli middle class.
Saturday’s rally in Tel Aviv was not
sponsored by any political party, and organizers said they implored attendees
not to come with posters supporting any Knesset faction. Nonetheless, a group of
Meretz supporters clad in green Meretz Tshirts came with large signs and a
fracas broke out between them and demonstrators who said they were making it
seem that the protest was sponsored by the left-wing party. No one was hurt in
the dust-up, but a large Meretz sign was left in tatters.
began earlier in the day with a march from south Tel Aviv to Rabin Square, that
focused on the neglect and poverty suffered by the citizens of the southern
One organizer of the march, Moshe Cohen of Bat Yam, said
that they were trying to “bring attention to the poverty and neglect we have
suffered under every government – under the Likud, Labor,
Cohen added that the impoverished neighborhoods “are where the
real thing will come from, not from the middle class.”
The biggest boos
of the protest were reserved for Shaul Mofaz, whose name
was jeered loudly by the crowd when a speaker mentioned the national unity
government deal he entered with the Likud-led government this past week. Chants
of “the people are the opposition” were also heard repeatedly, as was the chant
“We are the majority, we have returned to the streets.”
The majority, as
it were, appeared to be an impressive yet not awe-inspiring crowd of around
One attendant, 28-year-old Yotam of Tel Aviv, bucked the
“apolitical” theme, saying that the protesters need to translate their numbers
in the streets to political power at the ballots.
Representing a group
called “Mitpakdim,” which means “functions” in Hebrew, Yotam said, “No one
represents these people but these people don’t understand how the game is
Yotam, a former Kadima voter, called on protesters to get
involved in the political process and go to any and all open party primaries and
vote for candidates who support social issues.
“I was at the protests
over the summer and nothing changed. The place where change happens is in the
Knesset and we aren’t represented there. There is power here [in the streets]
but it needs to be used.”
In downtown Jerusalem Saturday night, over
1,000 people marched in solidarity with the May 12 protests.
in the summer and the government pissed on it,” said Itay Griniasty, a
mathematics student at Hebrew University.
“It’s amazing that there’s an
international protest, that all over the world the government in power isn’t
Protesters said they weren’t expecting a carbon copy of last
summer, when tents popped up across the country, sparking the largest social
justice protests in the country’s history.
Griniasty said that last
summer was a wake-up call, especially for the country’s young
“People are more aware now, they’ve been learning all year,
attending lectures, talking, learning new things,” he said.
of the chants for a welfare state and satirical songs about Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s three apartments were recycled from last year’s summer
protests. Organizers of the march, which was not overseen by any specific group,
said they had no idea what to expect over the summer.
agreed that the situation had not changed as a result of last year’s protests,
and if anything the gaps between social classes had grown.
be smaller, but it will be the real voice of real people, and maybe it’ll make
the government start to really do something,” said Amnon Rabinovitz, one of the
organizers and a history and civil studies teacher in Jerusalem.
frustrated,” he said. “We asked for a lot [last summer] and these things
Other protests were planned for Saturday night in Kiryat
Shmona, Haifa, Pardess Hanna, and Nahariya.