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Demonstrators at largest rally on socio-economic issues in Tel-aviv since the 1970's.
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Protestor carrying a sign reading "My Back is Broken"
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Protestor with a sign Xing out Netanyahu' face
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Another sign mocking Netanyahu who is shown with a container of cottage cheese over his head. protests in Israel began in June over the high price of cottage cheese.
photo by Rhonda Spivak


by Rhonda Spivak, Israel, August 3, 2011

[Editor's note: August 8,  2011- Subsequent to the writing of this article there were 300,000 Israelis who protested in Tel-Aviv against the cost of liivng-and Ruby Rivlin, the Speaker of the Knesset has sais it is likely that the next elections will occur befroe  Nov 12 when they are scheduled.  The organizers of the protests have called for a million people to come to the streets on September 3. The report I wrote a week ago is still current]

August 3, 2011-I went to last Saturday night’s mass demonstration in Tel-Aviv on July 31, 2011 where 60,000-100,000 people protested over the high cost of living, inability to afford apartments, a deteriorating education and health system, and the growing inequality between rich and poor. This was the largest rally Israel has had over socio-economic issues since the 1970's and was joined by simultaneous demonstrations around the country in which about a total of approximately 150,000  Israelis participated. 

It is revolutionary. And yet it is unclear as to whether and to what extent  the protestors  have the same agenda, and whether this growing movement will ultimately  threaten the stability of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government,or even force him to call early elections. The potential is there.

I spent three hours interviewing as many people as I could  trying to find  the answers  to these questions--emerging without clarity. 

The protests which began more than two weeks ago  by students and young people that slept in tents on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel-Aviv demanding  more affordable housing have served to light a match here and it is difficult to predict where the enduing flames  will ultimately lead—but it is a very serious fire that is for sure. I witnessed thousands of  people booing Bibi Netanyahu ( when his name was mentioned  sort  of like  when we boo the name Haman during the reading of  the Purim Megillah ). As I left the protest I walked with an Israeli photographer,  who described himself as “left on social issues,” but “not sure how left” he was on “political issues” with the Palestinians. He said we had just witnessed a “very historic event” which would begin a fundamental change in Israeli society. And while it may still be too early to say this for sure, I tend to agree with him. [ Editor's note: A week later, I fully agree with him]. 

One thing, I think, is very certain—politicians such as Bibi, who live in Ceasarea and wealthier area of the counrty will have to be very careful from now on to appear to live more modestly, more frugally  not be seen in expensive restaurants, or luxury locations, or else they could well receive the the wrath of the Israeli voter next time around . [As an aside, the message of this movement could be exceedingly problematic for politicians such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who live in the Yakirov towers, a luxury location where demonstrating students recently threw stink bombs].The nature of the game will change--fewer will want photo ops with business tycoons.

A statistic that is repeatedly referred to here is that Israel aside form the United States has the highest gap between rich and poor of any OECD country. 

There were many signs at the protests that captured the spirit of the event, and its different messages. They read: "Enough of Netanyahu the Liar's Policy of Capitalism," "Privatization" ( with a face of Netanyahu with an X over it),  "Land of Milk and Honey and Taxes, "The Nation Wants Social Justice."  Others I saw said "When We Unite We Succeeed",  "The Right to Housing Applies to All", "Sarah, Bibi is Screwing  Me Too,"  "Bibi is Zero", "The Nation is One', "Bibi Gives Everything to  The Haredim, Settlers, and Tycoons,and Nothing For Anyone Else", "Sarah Tell Him', " My Back is  Broken" (Nishbar Li Hagav), "The Nation Demands Social Justice", "Return Our Country To Us- For the Majority Everything Has Been Destroyed", "Privatization is Bad For  US' All. The sign that I stared at the most was one that said "Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu." Even though this protest was entirely different than the Arab Spring, the mere fact that such a sign was carried must surely be disturbing to  Netanyahu's government.

The sheer number and variety of the home made signs reflects the spontaneous nature of the movement, and its lack of cohesion.

Up until recently, many in the Israeli government have tried to paint the mushrooming protests as being driven by the Israeli left, and while there is for sure some truth to that, it is not the full story— the movement has definitely  succeeded in attracting voters who voted  for Bibi last election,( which must be all the more worrisome to him). Ma'ariv reported that  the son of Ruby Rivlin, the Likud speaker of the  Knesset, attended the rally in Tel-Aviv--a sign that  the movement is affecting ardent Likud voters, although the majority of the peopel I personally encountered at the rally were Centre-Left voters. Additionally, there are others who  would not turn out for the protests, but are very sympathetic to its messages. “I am not coming to any protest. I don’t want Netanyahu to fall, I voted for him, “ a taxi driver told me, notwithstanding he identified with the protest’s desire for a more just society. [Several days later taxi drivers were  clogging up streets in Tel-Aviv protesting the price of gas].

A  thirty something year old women who works as an educator for special needs children who brought her children to the protest told me  “I voted for Bibi. I don’t want him to fall.  I want him to make changes and do what is needed to reduce taxes. We are taxed on everything. Even more so because I voted for him, he needs to take action to reduce the cost of living for the average Israeli. The students in the tents on Rothschild Boulevard began giving voice to something we have all felt in our gut for some time."

She continued “So let them- the politicians- take fewer trips and spend more modestly, so the people can live better. Once they become politicians, they don’t care at all about spending less and leaving more for us-the people.”

Karen, a young women in her thirties who works as a  human resources officer , and spent all of last week sleeping in a tent on Rothschild Boulevard was very clear that she comes from ‘the right, not the left” of the political spectrum. But she said, “There is a very big social gap between rich and poor and “Bibi serves the interests of all of his wealthy friends.”

When I asked  Karen if she hoped these demonstration would lead to the fall of the government, she said “I am afraid that Bibi’s government  might fall from this. I don’t want it to happen. I don’t support Livni,” but she  added something must change. She spoke of having thought of going to Australia, “where atleast there I could buy an apartment”, but “I don’t want to leave-Israel is my home.” Karen stressed “that there are many of

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.