Israeli activists call for massive Saturday protests

Jean-Luc Renaudie – AFP August 4, 2011

Representatives of Israel’s growing social protest movement have called for massive demonstrations on Saturday night to further press their calls for a reduction in the cost of living.

“All the people who are involved in this wave of protests have called for mass demonstrations against the government this Saturday night in Tel Aviv and other cities,” protest leader Stav Shafir told AFP.

Last Saturday, more than 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Tel Aviv and towns and cities across the Jewish state chanting “the people want social justice.”

Israeli media said that thousands of members of the country’s Histadrut federation of trades unions turned up at the organisation’s Tel Aviv headquarters on Thursday evening in a demonstration of solidarity with the social activists.

The demonstrations were a sign of the growing power of the protest movement that began in mid-July when a group of disenchanted activists set up a tent city in one of Tel Aviv’s trendiest neighbourhoods to protest housing prices.

Since then the movement has snowballed and attracted a broad range of groups and causes.

Parents of young children demanding affordable day care have staged so-called “stroller protests,” while disabled Israelis gathered earlier this week outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem to call for better conditions.

In Arab-Israeli towns residents have hopped on board the movement to protest discrimination and on Thursday, cabbies got in on the act too, staging their own protest over the price of fuel by blocking roads in Tel Aviv.

Even before the housing protests got underway, Israeli doctors were threatening hunger strikes and work stoppages over their pay and working conditions, and regular citizens signed up for a successful boycott of their breakfast-staple cottage cheese to protest the rising price of the product.

The movement has gathered steam quickly, forcing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel a foreign trip and pledge reforms to the housing sector.

But protesters say the government has not offered real reforms, and that a bill passed by the Knesset this week and touted by Netanyahu as a way to bring down housing prices will actually make the situation worse.

They charge that the legislation, which will make it easier for developers to build new housing, will simply reward the construction of more luxury housing that the average Israeli cannot afford.

“Since the start of the tent revolution three weeks ago, the government has not listened to us, which is why we are ramping up the movement. We’re hoping for an even bigger crowd than the one that mobilised last week,” Shafir said.

She said the housing legislation passed by the Knesset before it broke for its summer recess “did nothing but make things worse and has just motivated people.”

As they gear up for the protest, activists continued working on a joint document outlining their demands, with plans to request reforms to the housing market, health care, education and taxes.

Israel’s doctors, who have recently intensified a long-running protest, said Wednesday night that the government had shown new willingness to meet some of their demands.

Doctor Leonid Eidelman, head of the Israeli Medical Association, told Israeli radio that a final deal had yet to be reached but that he was ending a 10-day hunger strike that he launched to pressure the government.

But a group of around 1,000 hospital residents said the emerging deal did not answer their demands and that they would hand in their resignations in protest, news site Ynet reported.

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