Tens of thousands turn out for social justice protests

Main demonstration in Tel Aviv only fraction of the size of previous protests; event in Beersheba canceled due to rocket fire.

Social protest rally in Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Social protest rally in Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Tens of thousands of Israelis on Saturday took part in the first mass social justice protest in Israel in the past two months, signaling what organizers said is the movement’s return to the streets.
The centerpiece of the rallies was a march in Tel Aviv, which set out from the former site of the Rothschild boulevard tent city to Rabin Square, where a mass demonstration was held.
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The rallies took place against the backdrop of a serious escalation in Israel’s south. Earlier in the day, IAF air strikes killed 5 Islamic Jihad terrorists in the Gaza Strip, and a flurry of rockets hit the south of Israel, including one that struck a residential building in Ashdod. The escalation forced organizers to cancel a demonstration planned in Beersheba, well within the range of Gaza rocket squads.
The main demonstration in Tel Aviv was only a fraction of the size of the mass protests of the summer, but still managed to bring tens of thousands in the streets in spite of the events in the South and waning public interest and media coverage of the movement.
The protest to some extent showed influences from the US “Occupy Wall Street” movement, including signs saying “we are the 99%” and one sign that read “Occupy Oakland”. A prominent message of the protest was again the need for a “welfare state”, but also for the state to scrap the current national budget, and forge a “social budget”, with greater spending on social issues.
Vicky Vann, who was part of a group of Jerusalemites staying in a vacant building in the capital until it was forcibly evacuated last week, spoke to the crowd with an emphasis on the problems faced by Israel’s homeless.
“I am demanding from this stage, that our decision-makers implement the public housing law immediately. That they free up the funds in Jerusalem and across the country, for immediate public housing!”
“There are people today who are still sleeping in the campsites, so I demand that we find a solution immediately," she said. "The state must stop evicting people from the streets, when the streets are their home. To stop demolishing houses that don’t meet the housing criteria.”
Yael Baroda, a young mother who was one of the initiators of the so-called “stroller marches” by parents earlier in the summer, told the crowd that the issues facing parents in Israel have not been solved.
“I rent an apartment in Tel Aviv. Both me and my husband have advanced degrees and work hard, but we also, just like you and Israelis across the country do not see ourselves with the possibility of attaining a mortgage,” she said.
Baroda said she was living in an “economic war of attrition”, and accused the government of “encouraging us to have children, but then abandoning us to the free market.”
“We, Arab and Jewish women, are the last priority of the national leadership. . . the workforce does not present employment that can match the high cost of living,” she added.
During the march in Tel Aviv, two people were arrested while scuffling with police. The incident began when a group of three men wearing blindfolds and lying still in the street were moved by police, who were quickly surrounded by a crowd of shouting protestors.
In Jerusalem on Saturday, thousands of demonstrators marched from the city’s Gan HaSus Park towards the Knesset. The demonstrators carried signs that read "We won't be satisfied with crumbs" and "When the government is against the people, the people are against the government."
Among those marching in Jerusalem was National Student Union Head Itzik Shmuli. Reports last week said there had been a rift between Shmuli and protest leader Daphni Leef, but a spokesman for the movement said no such rift existed and the union refused to comment on the matter.
Elsewhere on Saturday, rallies were held in Haifa, Kiryat Shmona, Hod Hasharon, and Modi'in, among others.
Melanie Lidman contributed to this report