Leading student and tent city activists who are united in their protests about the high cost of living
and the unavailability of affordable housing have found a champion in President
The president who invited them to Beit Hanassi on Monday to
learn firsthand about what was bothering them.
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At the conclusion of the
meeting, Regev Contes, a director of documentary films, told reporters: “We felt
like orphans before we came.
Now we don’t, because the president has
encouraged us to continue with what we are doing.”
“No one of that status
has ever looked me straight in the eye before,” said Daphni Leef, one of the
tent city activists, who made it clear that while she has consistently been in
the forefront of the protest movement, “I speak as one of the people and not as
a representative of the people.”
Though boosted in spirit by their
meeting with Peres, no one in the delegation believed that the situation would
change overnight or even within a week or a month.
Peres had impressed on
them the urgency to sit down at a roundtable with government representatives,
employers and economists to discuss the overall situation and arrive at a new
“We haven’t seen anything concrete or operative, and
until we do, we will continue to live in tents and to hold communal Shabbat
gatherings,” said Leef.
The sentiment was shared by Stav Shaffir, one of
the most prominent of the tent city activists, who said: “Talk is nothing more
than talk. We have to get beyond it.”
At the start of the meeting,
Students Association President Itzik Shmuly said: “We are demonstrating in the
streets because we love our country and we want Israel to be our home. We want
to build a better future for ourselves and for everyone else in Israel. Some of
our friends are leaving to live elsewhere. We don’t want to do that. We have
respect for state institutions and for the government.”
have no personal or political agendas, he said. They just want to persuade the
government not to look at people in terms of statistics, but as human faces and
to formulate economic policy on a more humane basis.
The invitation from
Peres had been inspiring, Shmuly said, because Peres is known to be a man of
vision and a man who achieves breakthroughs.
“You are an example for us,
and you have given us the thrust to progress in the direction that we are
seeking,” Shmuly said.
In welcoming the delegation, Peres told them that
they were doing the right thing.
“I believe in you,” he said.
think what you’re doing is sincere and important. I think the public was
surprised by the seriousness and huge size of the problem.” He also commended
the demonstrators for the overall civilized behavior and lack of
Leef made the point that almost everyone who reports on the
demonstrations refers to the middle income bracket, “but we also care about
other sectors of society, particularly the weaker socioeconomic sectors. We have
to put the focus on people, because people are the state – and we have to learn
to talk to each other.”
If anyone has learned that every cloud has a
silver lining, it’s the tent city activists.
“In the last two-and-a-half
weeks I learned a tremendous lesson about how to put other agendas aside and to
sit together in a tent, Jews and Arabs, Right and Left, religious and secular,
Sephardi and Ashkenazi, affluent and poor,” said Shaffir.
There are great
dreams among the people about what the state should be, she
Because Israel was always so preoccupied with war and peace,
she said, it was almost embarrassing to talk something as mundane as a home. “If
we can learn to decide what we want and where we want to live, all the other
problems will sort themselves out,” she declared optimistically.
directly to Peres, she said: “We want your help and that of the public to make
that dream a reality.”
Peres was completely in favor of revamping
economic policy, whereby government income would be disbursed in a manner that
would benefit the quality of life of the population.
He also emphasized
that round-table discussions should be in the nature of dialogue and not
It was imperative, he said, to delve deeply into the
problems and to understand them, and there has to be goodwill on all
“We have to find solutions as quickly as possible,” he
Shaffir told reporters later that there have to be dramatic policy
changes with regard to education, health, housing, quality of life and whole lot
of other issues.
While she and all the others were ready to immediately
sit and down at a roundtable, they were all aware that it entailed much more
than merely stating the facts.
“First we have to build a renewal of
confidence,” said Leef.