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Marking two years since J14, thousands demonstrate, block Tel Aviv roads

About 4,000 demonstrators gather in central Tel Aviv o commemorate two years since the first tent was erected on Rothschild Boulevard. on July 14, 2011, launching the largest struggle for social justice in Israeli history – aka, the Israeli Summer or J14.

Demonstrators holding anti-Capitalist and anti-occupation signs (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Demonstrators holding anti-Capitalist and anti-occupation signs (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

The thousands of demonstrators for social justice marched from Rothschild Boulevard and Habima Square to the corner of Kaplan and Ibn Gvirol, where they were joined by about 200 activists who marched from the poorer Hatikva neighborhood in south Tel Aviv. The second group focused their protest on the demand for social housing. In the combined rally, speakers Daphni Leef, of the original Rothschild encampment, and Charlie Biton, of the Black Panthers, called upon Israelis to reignite the struggle, reject the empty promises of politicians and fight for a just society. Biton stated that we should all learn the lessons of democracy from our neighbors in Egypt, who by the power of the people and their unity, caused the downfall of rulers who did not serve the people.

The cenotaph for Moshe Silman, where he set fie to himself a year ago (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

The cenotaph for Moshe Silman, where he set fire to himself a year ago. (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

Demonstrators also commemorated the death by self-immolation of Moshe Silman in last year’s demonstration. Silman set fire to himself in central Tel Aviv in protest of the maltreatment he received from welfare authorities, and became an immediate symbol of the movement and its first martyr. On Sunday, activists stood in silence for a minute to commemorate him and unveiled a cenotaph in his memory. A firefighting truck was present at the ceremony, probably in fear that another desperate victim of the system would try to repeat Silman’s protest.

After the rally, about 1,000 demonstrators marched on to Ayalon – the central Tel Aviv highway, which protesters have sought to block time after time in recent years. For about an hour they marched on the southbound lanes, unstopped by police, and kept on chanting against the government’s austerity measures and neo-liberal capitalist agenda.

Activists blocking the Ayalon highway (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Activists blocking the Ayalon highway (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

The somewhat minor turnout at Sunday’s rally was a disappointment for activists, who were hoping that recent government plans for cutbacks, the cancelation of social housing and exporting natural gas would cause the masses to return to the streets – as it seemed they would in a powerful demonstration held two months ago. Yet it seems that over the past two years the movement has lost its momentum, and it is unlikely we will soon be witnessing half a million Israelis on the streets as we did at the peak of the 2011 summer protests. Small groups of activists are still organizing weekly vigils outside of Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s home, some have moved into organized labor, while others have devoted themselves to stopping home evictions or joined popular demonstrations in the West Bank – but the disorganized movement as a whole is treading in place, and many estimate that it will not gain public support again until new austerity measures hit the public hard with unemployment and additional increases in the cost of living.

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    1. Philos

      This is what I have to say about J14 from my Facebook

      צועקים ברחוב ״ביבי לך הביתה״. יש לי תשובה בשבילכם. ״איפה הענים? איפה הערבים? איפה האתיופים, התמנים, המזרכים, הרוסים? לכו אתם הביתה יא צבועים. צדק חברתי? נראה לי שאתם מתבלבלים מזה חברה ומה זה צדק ולא תגלו כל עוד אתם מצגים רק את החבר׳ה הצרה שלכם״

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Yes, those were my questions already last year, Philos. And Leef’s desire for “smolanim” to leave her alone didn’t help either.

        You can’t drop a series of successful demonstrations for the winter so you can spend the hagim etc. with mom and dad and expect to be able to pick up where you left off the next summer. The Egyptians, they now say they want to emulate demonstrate in all kinds of weather, even while fasting during their holiest month.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Is your problem then that Leef and many other organizers are Ashkenazi and Jewish?

        Judging people based on their skin color or background rather then their ideas is .. I forget the word.

        Reply to Comment
        • Philos

          Kolumn9, don’t be so coy. The organizers are overwhelming Ashknazi and come from middle-class and wealthy families but as you know there is a connection between a person’s ethnic origin and their socio-economic status in Israel. I didn’t design the policy that condemned so many Moroccans, Yemenites, Iraqis, Ethiopians and new Russian immigrants (and many Others, with a capital “O”) to the geographical and economic periphery of the country. Trying to pretend that this ethnic and economic stratification doesn’t happen in Israel is racist, not pointing out the hypocrisy of J14 bleeding hearts.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            You have simply stated that there are historical roots of socio-economic differences in Israel which also happen to lead to Ashkenazi middle-class youth being most socially/politically aware and best placed to protest.

            But nothing you stated in your comment changes the fact that you judge a protest based on the ratio of colors present not on the ideas presented.

            Reply to Comment
          • Philos

            On the contrary, I’m measuring their ideas against their actions. Thus far, since their very inception they marginalized the two most discriminated and impoverished groups in Israel; Haradeim and Arabs. They have not appealed to the Ethiopian community who also suffer from discrimination and impoverishment. Other than a few well publicized visits to Sderot they did not reach out to the “holes” in the country like Afula, Lod, Or Yehuda or Kiryat Malachi to name a few places in the country where there is widespread poverty and alienation. How can they claim the voice for “social justice” when they don’t even bother to reach out to those most desperately in need of it? So, unfortunately for us, one of the ways to measure how serious an idea is is to look at the people proposing it.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Hilonim, Haredim and Aravim could not possibly be on the same demo.

            These groups have mutually exclusive goals.

            As a Haredy man had said – we don’t need your state – we would do well in Arab Palestine too.

            Reply to Comment
    2. marina

      Hi, I am sorry to disturb you, my name is Marina Tondo and i am writing an article for an italian international affairs newspaper, “The Post Internazionale”, on the Israeli protests of last sunday. I have a couple of question for you about the protests 1) Do you think that the prime minister is trying to divert the attention from the protests to the Iran threat (pressure the US to intervene with military force) he made on CBS news on sunday? Divert attention from the internal economic/social protest situation to the international issue ? 2) What do you think about the decision of cutting the defense budget in response to the social protests? Do you think it will be enough to calm the protest? 3) What about the Cabinet approval of extending military conscription to the ultra orthodox Jewish as a response to the equality claims for social justice?
      I know you are very busy but I would be eternally grateful if you could answer any of these question for me,
      Thank you in advance and in any case,
      Marina Tondo

      Reply to Comment
    3. The Trespasser

      1) These protests weren’t widespread (and their program is laughable) from the very beginning, so there was no real need to divert the attention. The internal economic-social situation is that people are not earning too much, but no one dies from starvation and everyone who wishes to work can find some kind of employment with payment sufficient to cover basic needs and even some luxury.

      2) Army budged was cut due to state budget deficit, social protests have nothing to do with it.

      3) Haredim should serve, but their service is too expensive – very strict kashrut, no female soldiers, special arrangements for shabbat, etc.

      Just my 10 c.

      Reply to Comment