Israeli Social Protest Leader: A New Movement Is Underway

Daphni Leef, on speaking tour in the U.S., says social justice activists are gearing up for a new season of activity.

Israel's social justice protesters are gearing up for a new season of demonstrations after a long winter hiatus, according to protest movement leader Daphni Leef.

"Everyone is getting ready for the spring and the summer," Leef told Haaretz regarding the protest movement's next steps. "I won't give it all away, but we are already organizing and attempting to revive the protest [movement]."

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Leef, whose decision to pitch a tent along Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard last July sparked the most widespread social protests in the country's history, is currently on a speaking tour in the U.S., along with fellow organizer Stav Shaffir. Last week, Shaffir addressed the annual J Street conference, while Leef spoke on Saturday at the Clinton Global Initiative's annual conference in Washington, D.C.

"I think everyone who participated in the 'Million Man March' in Tel Aviv last September 3 felt optimistic that Israel would change. In any properly functioning country, after almost 10% of the population hits the streets, things would change drastically. But we all know what happened in Israel: the [economic] burden just keeps growing," Leef said.

Leef expressed disappointment regarding two of the protest movement's key achievements, the government's decision to provide free public education to children starting at age three and the adoption of many of the recommendations put forward by the Trajtenberg Committee for Socio-economic Change.

"There's no certainty regarding the [extension] of the Compulsory Education law to age three, and meanwhile we're hearing about all kinds of anti-democratic laws, more tax hikes and the cost of gasoline and electricity are rising," she said, adding that the Trajtenberg Committee's recommendations had been watered down by the government.

Leef declined to predict how the renewed protest movement would look or reveal her own next steps, but she said that she has learned a lot. "I'm not the same girl I was last July 14. I have a very steep learning curve during the past seven months."

Leef also criticized politicians, like newly elected Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, who have presented themselves recently as leaders of the protest movement. "I don't want to discuss this or that personality, but in general all of these declarations about leadership - 'I will do, I will lead, I will protest with the people' – they are all empty statements."

"This protest is a civil protest," she said. "People that become party heads need to sketch out a precise plan with a vision - what they are going to do so that life in this country will be better Not just tomorrow or the day after, but in another ten, twenty years."

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