Parents protest
Parents and children at a protest against the cost of education outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Photo by David Bachar
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Hundreds of Israelis, their children in tow, converged on the Tel Aviv Museum of Art plaza yesterday afternoon to protest the high cost of raising a family in Israel and to demand more state support for parents.

The organizers of the demonstration called for free child care and education starting from the end of maternity leave, the extension of paid maternity leave to six months and the introduction of concurrent paternity leave, tax deductions for child care expenses and price restraints on basic baby products.

"We have been calling for free early childhood education for nine years now," Na'amat Israel president Talia Livni said, addressing the crowd. "They called us delusional; we are not delusional, the Israeli government is delusional. The government of Israel does not see us, it does not see you. This is not a despondent revolt, this is the transparent generation that is finally showing its face," she said.

"You have a right to sufficient free day-care centers. You have a right to any family size you want. It costs NIS 6,000 a month to have two children in private day care. Since there aren't enough places in the public preschools, what choice is there? Show me working mothers with a net salary of NIS 6,000 a month," Livni said.

World WIZO chairwoman Tova Ben Dov also addressed the crowd. Both the Women's International Zionist Organization and Na'amat, the women's organization associated with the Histadrut Labor Federation, helped to organize yesterday's demonstration. WIZO and Na'amat each operates a network of day care centers and preschools throughout Israel.

"Education isn't a luxury, early childhood education is a basic staple and the government is responsible for providing it to every working family in Israel," Ben Dov said. "Out of 300,000 children who are in child care frameworks, there is only room for 100,000 of them in the public and subsidized facilities. Two hundred thousand children go to expensive private day care or stay at home! I call on the government to solve the serious shortage of day care facilities and give an equal opportunity to all Israeli children to high-quality, accessible and state-supervised education that will enable parents to honorably support their families," she said.

A woman identified only as Ariana from Tel Aviv, who has one daughter, said: "We're here because we're dealing with expenses that are way beyond our means. Around half of my salary goes to day care, and nothing is left for rent after all the other expenses. It's impossible to get by in the central region. Day care in central Tel Aviv, eight hours a day, five days a week, costs NIS 3,000, which is half of the average wage," Ariana said.

Stav Shafir, one of the leaders of the tent protest, spoke at yesterday's gathering. "We are fighting against the privatization of our children's future, against having that future determined by how much money I will be able to spend on education, on a nanny, on extra activities. Will I be able to have children? It depends on how much money I have. That's not the kind of state I want to live in."

Organizers of the demonstration prepared facsimile checks with the amount they want allocated for education. They plan to send them to government ministers.

About a month ago thousands of demonstrators attended "stroller marches" in 16 communities around the country to protest the high cost of raising children in Israel.