Social protest - Nir Keidar - 4.8.2012
Social protest rally near the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, August 4, 2012. Photo by Nir Keidar
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Thousands of Israelis participated in two separate social protest rallies on Saturday, as one event represented a bid to unify the social protest movement and the movement for a universal IDF draft, with the other mostly comprised by social protest activists who disagreed with the unity attempt.

On Thursday, social protest leaders and those of the Israeli Forum for Equal Service announced that they would team up for a Tel Aviv rally, taking place near Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and which will rally for universal military service and against the government's tough economic measures.

"This isn't only a young people's campaign," said students' union chairman and social activist Itzik Shmuli at a news conference yesterday. "It's the campaign of everyone who bears the economic, social and defense burden - everyone who cares how this country will look in a few years."

Social protest leader Stav Shaffir also took part in the conference. "It's time to go to an all-out war," she said. "The games are over."

However, despite the bid for unification, many prominent social protest activists said that the move was a publicity stunt, that that there was in fact no real unity.

According to the activists, the joint rally does not represent their views, and serves mostly the personal political interests of several of its organizers. In addition, activists have added that they will organize a separate rally, due to begin in Tel Aviv's Habima Square, and to end near the government's office in the city's Kaplan St.

Speaking during Saturday's protest, Shmuli accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of breaking what he said was a contract with the Israeli people, in which the country's leadership safeguards the citizens who, in turn, defend the country.

"We serve in the army, we pay taxes, we volunteer. We're in all the places the state forgot about, and, mostly, we're willing to sacrifice everything," Shmuli said, adding that the prime minister and "your government no longer respect the agreement. You and your government have jumped ship into the life boat."

Shmuli then accused Netanyahu's government of "passing free meals on the deck, leaving us in the stern, knowing that the workers will continue to row. The State of Israel and Israeli society will not be a slave ship."

"Mister prime minister, there are those who call you king, King Bibi, but we're mainly looking for a captain and a leader," the students' union head said, adding: "Will you mister prime minister choose to return to hold the wheel, or continue to run with the life boat?"

Also speaking at the rally near the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Shaffir said that the people had "stopped believing" Netanyahu, adding that a new generation has come "which you are detached from, that is detached from you."

Protests were marred with the arrest of one activist, who police said stole a tear gas canister from one of the policemen, and sprayed another policeman who was videotaping the rally.

However, activists present at the event said that the man in question was himself sprayed by an undercover policeman.

Later, police confronted protesters who had been blocking the road near government offices in Tel Aviv, with some arrests reported. Eight people were arrested in total throughout the events.