This post has been updated.
Huge protests in cities across Israel signal they are a growing political force
The housing and social protests tonight reached a huge crescendo, with throngs flooding streets in over 10 cities across the country Israel. Haaretz is reporting roughly 150,000 people around the country in Hebrew (most conservative estimate in the morning papers belongs to the pro-Netanyahu free paper, Israel Hayom: 100,000 protesters).
Compared to the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 who demonstrated last week, the number of protesters around the country may have more than quadrupled.
In Tel Aviv, the roar of frenzied euphoria mixed with anger preceded the crowd as the parade rounded a major intersection on its way to the Tel Aviv museum. Screams of “revolution” were echoed all over the country. Estimates speak of 10,000 in Jerusalem, similar numbers in Haifa and Beer Sheva, along with demonstrations in Kiryat Shmona, Nazareth, Ashdod several other locations.
Like last week, the Tel Aviv demonstration ended with a large and loud sit-in at a major traffic intersection (Dizengoff and Kaplan streets); police formed human chains to block streets, mounted police appeared, and eventually called to break up the protesters. Eight were arrested and released in the following morning.
At first glance, it appeared that the crowd’s demands were not significantly different from last week. The main rallying cry was still: “The people! Want! Social justice!” with a generous dose of “Bibi go home,” as well as anti-capitalism, pro-welfare state slogans, all laced with dripping sarcasm along the lines of: “The market is free, but we’re slaves.”
Over the last two weeks, the protests have been criticized as unfocused and lacking concrete demands. Tonight there were new signs of a plan taking shape. In the final speeches, after a lineup that included celebrity musicians, the organizers wrapped up with several quite specific demands. In what sounded very much like an ultimatum, they said that Netanyahu has until Wednesday, the day the Knesset goes on recess, to do two things: Withdraw the pending law for national housing committees – which they consider deeply damaging – and prevent the privatization of the Israel Lands Administration, which holds the vast majority of land in Israel.
On Sunday, Netanyahu has announced that a team of ministers would meet the representatives of the protest movement. The director of Israel’s finance ministry has resigned in the morning following the protest, citing the protest among his reasons.
And if the demands are not met? In a not very subtle innuendo, the organizers asked people to take note of the symbols starting to appear – a triangle with the letter “bet” inside it, hinting their intention to form or to join a political party, or at least to the attempt to bring down the government .
Here are some images from the protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, followed by a slideshow of images that caught the eye of 972’s Yossi Gurvitz
Shir Harel and Noam Sheizaf contributed to this report