Thousands call for social justice in TA, J'lem

Rallies held in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, downtown Jerusalem in conjunction with "May 12" protests in cities around the world.

Rabin Square social justice protest 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Rabin Square social justice protest 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
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 tent protests.
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.”
The 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.
The protests 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 neighborhoods.
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, everyone.”
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 5,000.
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 played.”
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.
“We marched 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 working.”
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 activists.
“People are more aware now, they’ve been learning all year, attending lectures, talking, learning new things,” he said.
Still, many 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.
Many activists 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.
“Maybe it’ll 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.
“I feel frustrated,” he said. “We asked for a lot [last summer] and these things didn’t happen.”
Other protests were planned for Saturday night in Kiryat Shmona, Haifa, Pardess Hanna, and Nahariya.