Around 300 thousands Israelis took the streets on Saturday night, calling for social justice and the introduction of a welfare state. Estimates are that this has been the largest demonstration in the country’s history.
The biggest of several rallies took place in Tel Aviv, where over 200,000 marched to the government building on Kaplan Street (Rabin Square, the usual site of such protests, is being renovated and was closed to the public). 30,000 marched in Jerusalem to PM Netanyahu’s house. Smaller rallies were held in Modi’in, Haifa, Nes Tziona and other towns. In Kiryat Shmone, protesters blocked the highway leading north.
Despite attempts by the organizers to convey a non-partisan message, many of the demonstrators directed their calls at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and some held signs calling for his resignation. Former activist and Hadash MK called to the protesters: “With you, we will win over this pathetic government.” As was the case in previous rallies, the most popular call was “the people demand social justice,” followed by “Here comes the welfare state.”
This was the largest in a series of demonstrations which started three weeks ago. Last Saturday, 100,000 marched in Tel Aviv, and 50,000 in other cities. The week before, there were 20,000. The call for the latest rally came after the government approved a controversial reform in the country’s zoning and planning committees. While Netanyahu argued that the reform would flood the market with cheap housing, leaders of the protest movement saw it as another privatization move, which would only benefit the country’s largest construction companies. Netanyahu has also blocked an attempt to cancel the Knesset’s summer vacation due to the protest.
The “July 14″ movement started when a group of young Israelis camped at the heart of Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, in protest of the rising housing costs. Since them, tent camps appeared in every major city in Israel. There are at least 4 tent camps in Tel Aviv, the largest one, in Rothschild Avenue, includes more than 400 tents and stretches over a kilometer.
Unlike previous rallies, the last event was very conventional in its style and messages, with live shows from a couple of Israel’s most popular singers. For the first time, the national anthem was played at the end of the rally. What was unprecedented was the attendance. Among the speakers that addressed the rally in Tel Aviv was Palestinian author Uda Basharat. ”It’s about time this protest will be become the protest for all those exploited, Jews and Arabs,” Basharat said.
Organizers have declared their intention to have more events in the coming days.
Background and analysis of J14 protest: