Israel Protest Leaders Vow to Escalate Fight, After Cabinet Approves Trajtenberg Report

Protest leaders say recommendations of socioeconomic report insufficient; renewed demonstrations planned for October 15 and 29.

The cabinet Sunday approved the Trajtenberg Committee's recommendations on socioeconomic reform by a vote of 21-8, one week after the ministers embarrassed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by refusing to do so.

But leaders of the social protest movement, who deem the Trajtenberg report insufficient, promptly responded by vowing to escalate the protests.

Benjamin Netanyahu - Mark Israel Salem
Mark Israel Salem

The report's passage was made possible primarily by a series of promises that Netanyahu made to Yisrael Beiteinu, and which caused the party's five ministers to switch their votes. In addition, Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon (Likud) said he had been promised extra funding for his ministry.

All four Shas ministers voted against, as did two of the four Atzmaut ministers - Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, both protesting the report's recommendation to cut defense spending. Two members of Netanyahu's Likud party, Silvan Shalom and Yossi Peled, also voted against, with the latter protesting the defense cuts too.

But sources in Netanyahu's bureau stressed that while Barak, who is also Atzmaut's chairman, couldn't reasonably be expected to vote for a substantial cut in defense spending, the two Atzmaut ministers who had voted in favor had done so with his consent.

One promise that Netanyahu made in order to win Yisrael Beiteinu's support was to more than double the maximum size of the grants given to young men and women who complete military or civilian national service, from NIS 9,500 to NIS 20,000, by 2016 (the exact size depends on the type and length of service). He also promised that working families, including working singles, would be given priority when it comes to buying apartments built on land to be marketed by the state at reduced prices, which will presumably lower the dwellings' prices.

A third promise was that the state itself would build another 4,000 housing units over the next three years, including 2,000 by the end of next year.

Finally, Netanyahu accepted Yisrael Beiteinu's plan to market land for 180,000 to 200,000 apartments over the next five years, with the proviso that contractors must make 20 percent of the units "affordable housing" - meaning apartments of up to 85 square meters - earmarked for long-term rental.

But these additions to the Trajtenberg report failed to satisfy Shas, which charged that the recommendations still didn't do enough to help the weakest members of society. In particular, they didn't do enough to create affordable housing, the Shas ministers charged.

Shalom also said the report wouldn't do enough to help the poor.

The protest leaders, too, said they thought the social welfare budget should be increased by far more than the report stipulates, noting that they are planning a mass demonstration on October 29 to make their displeasure clear.

One of the protest leaders, National Student Union chairman Itzik Shmuli, said that while the report contained some important proposals, it didn't do enough to increase the housing supply - especially the public housing supply - or to reduce the cost of living and combat the widespread use of temporary employees hired via manpower agencies.

Two others, Daphni Leef and Stav Shaffir, were furious that the report advises against increasing the overall size of the state budget, opting instead to merely move some money from defense to social issues.

"It's inconceivable that after this past historic summer, the country should continue to be run according to the old biannual budget, which was written under completely different circumstances," Leef said.

"First and foremost, Trajtenberg doesn't increase spending," agreed Shaffir.

In addition to the October 29 demonstration, protest leaders are busy organizing the Israeli segment of an international protest that is due to take place in 40 countries simultaneously on October 15. The Israeli portion is slated to include marches starting at various points throughout the country and converging on the Tel Aviv Museum.