Protest leaders - Ofer Vakhnin - September 27 2011
Protest leaders at press conference, September 27, 2011. From left: Avia Spivak, Daphni Leef, Yossi Yonah, Regev Konts and Stav Shaffir. Photo by Ofer Vakhnin
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The leaders of the social protest movement yesterday announced that they plan to hold a massive demonstration next month, in response to their disappointment with the conclusions of a government panel tasked with examining their demands and coming up with the ways to implement at least some of them.

At a press conference they convened, Daphni Leef and other leaders of the protest, together with professors Avia Spivak and Yossi Yonah, the respective heads of two panels of experts advising them, blasted the proposals submitted earlier this week by the committee headed by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg.

Also yesterday, Trajtenberg himself, in an interview to Meirav Arlosoroff, insisted that the government cannot raise taxes by tens of billions of shekels, and said that housing prices will decline - perhaps even too much - once the implications of a dramatic increase in the housing supply are recognized.

"We received the response of the cabinet and the person heading it to our protest, and it was a stinging insult," Leef told reporters. "What did Israel's citizens receive? I don't want to blow off the committee, even though it would be totally appropriate, mainly because that committee blew us off. We will not be laughed at or taken for granted," Leef said.

"I have listened to and read all the recommendations. They threw some bones to the middle class, but the middle class is dwindling away," she continued. "What about the ones below them? Where are they in the recommendations? I didn't see them there. The committee received a limited mandate, a pathetic mandate, and it fully realized that pathetic mandate. We asked for root canal treatment and got a dental hygienist instead. The summer of 2011 is over but our protest continues," Leef said.

Addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Leef said: "We're giving you until after the holidays. You have a month to offer us real proposals, serious ones. On Yom Kippur you and your cabinet must carry out a moral reckoning. On Sukkot we will erect protest Sukkot booths in the capital. Give us a new social-oriented budget," Leef said, adding that on October 29, "just as the Knesset is due to return from its summer recess, we will return to the streets in full force. We will not give up and will not leave and will not be silent and will not rest."

Yonah said at the press conference that he and his colleagues on the advisory panels followed the work of the Trajtenberg committee "with hope diluted by fear," adding: "When the recommendations were issued the hope was dispelled and our fears were realized."

The committee's recommendations contain no genuine good news, Yonah said, adding that the committee was powerless to overcome the failures of the government's policy and recorded a resounding defeat.

Spivak began his remarks by quoting from remarks by Trajtenberg about Israel's socioeconomic ills. "What did he do?" Spivak then asked, rhetorically. "He continued the existing policy of budget cutbacks. Ostensibly there is a recognition of the need to make a 180-degree turn, but apart from a certain change in taxation there's nothing. We want the answer now, and it's an answer that can be given now."

He went on to explain the main points of the recommendations drafted by the consulting panels for the social protest movement, headed by him and Yonah. These include expanding the mandatory education law to cover infants beginning with the end of maternity leave; adding NIS 2 billion to the annual state education budget; significantly increasing National Security Institute allowances; allocating NIS 3.3 billion to the construction of public housing; eliminating the employment agencies through which many public sector employees work and adding NIS 3.8 billion to the state health services budget.

"People come and tell you, 'It's impossible, there's a global crisis, we can't spend another shekel, if we do Israel's credit rating will be reduced,' and the like. It's not nice to say, but those people are confusing concepts and taking advantage of the fact that people don't know economics," Spivak said.

"Increasing spending does no damage at all. They need to stop telling us it's impossible. The consulting panels are standing here saying, 'Yes we can' [speaking in English]."

Trajtenberg had some choice words of his own to the criticism leveled at him and his committee by figures behind the protest movement. "There are agents within the protest movement whose sole interest is in maintaining [the protest]," Trajtenberg said yesterday.

"The leaders couldn't say 'Amen' to our recommendations, because that would break up the protest. The responsible critiques of the committee's report were skeptical about the possibility of implementing the recommendations, and that is justified criticism because in Israel things tend to fade away," Trajtenberg said. "My work is done, and I am going back to being a regular citizen - it's the public that will now have to demand implementations from the government."

In her remarks yesterday, Leef criticized what she called the government's attempts to drive a wedge between the various groups participating in the protest movement, saying: "They're trying to scare us by saying that we will all pay for taking care of the weak. That's their method - divide and conquer. But the truth is the opposite of that. Do you really think you would be able to fool us as you have fooled us until now? No, that won't work anymore."

Referring to the "vision for social justice, an overhaul of [Israel's] social policy, the same policy that brought a million people out of their homes this summer, a policy we demand to change," of the movement, Leef said, "These are not slogans or cliches. Today we are introducing a different social outlook, a solidarity that takes care of all of its members."