The nationwide social justice movement protest reached new heights on Saturday
night, as an estimated 300,000 people took part in demonstrations across the
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
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For the third week in a row, protesters blocked the intersection of Rehov Kaplan and Ibn Gvirol after most of the social justice protesters had dispersed.
Several hundred protesters remained in the intersection, singing Jewish songs and the movement's now-token chant: "The people demand social justice."
Some forty minutes after the bulk of the remaining protesters left the intersection, police declared the protest illegal and announced over loudspeakers that demonstrators had ten minutes to clear the streets.
The police order was met with refusals to disperse, accompanied by chants of "The police are with us, they don't have a choice," and "Mr. Officer, you too are worth more."
Several dozen protesters sat in the middle of the intersection.
Roughly ten minutes later, large riot police forces arrived on the scene
and began forming lines and forcefully moving the remaining protesters
and bystanders out of the intersection and into a makeshift holding area
using what appeared to be a "kettling" maneuver.
Five protesters were arrested, Army Radio reported, although several dozen were initially detained.
Police managed to reopen the littered intersection to traffic by 1:15
a.m. Police forces remained on the scene to direct traffic.
Protest leaders deny movement has become politicized
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 government.
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 overly politicized.
“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
“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 weakest citizens.”
Rabbi Benny Lau took to the stage and issued a call for unity across Israel’s factious 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.”
Downtown effectively shutdown by Jerusalem protesters
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.
“It 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
“We worked hard on this all week, we really wanted to show [Prime
Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu that his behavior is unacceptable,” she
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.
Downtown was 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 Europe.
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 political opposition.
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.