Social Protest Returns |

Thousands of Israelis Take to the Streets to Protest Austerity Measures

Protesters march in Tel Aviv against Finance Minister Yair Lapid's budget cuts; hundreds in Ramat Gan protest the export of natural gas in front of the home of Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Saturday to protest against austerity measures presented this week as part of the state's new budget.

Rallies were expected to take place in cities across the country, bringing back the social protest that took Israel by storm two years ago.

Some 10,000 people were estimated to be marching in Tel Aviv. The protesters were marching from Habima Square, via Ibn Gabirol, King George and Allenby streets and onto Rothschild Boulevard. It appeared that unlike the previous rallies of this sort, no speeches or performances were scheduled to take place.

Among the activists were many of the leaders of the 2011 social protest, as well as Knesset members and members of left-wing organizations. The signs wielded by the marchers cast blame on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

MK Itzik Shmuli, who in 2011 was among the leaders of the protest movement, marched on Saturday alongside the Labor Party's Young Guard.

"Lapid's financial plan will severely hurt the working man and will trample the weak sectors," he said. "To block it, we will wage a persistent battle on the streets and in the halls of the Knesset. Israelis don't expect their finance minister to be a socialist, but they don't expect him to be a populist, either. [They expect him] only to fulfill the promises he has been making up until last week.

Israelis protesting against austerity measures in Tel Aviv, May 11, 2013.
Israelis protest in Ramat Gan, May 11, 2013
Israeli protesters clashing with police in Ramat Gan, May 11, 2013.
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Israelis protesting against austerity measures in Tel Aviv, May 11, 2013.Credit: David Bachar
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Israelis protest in Ramat Gan, May 11, 2013Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
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Israeli protesters clashing with police in Ramat Gan, May 11, 2013.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Israelis protest against austerity measures

"Lapid promises to deliver paradise in two years, but the public's trust is a necessary condition for [economic] growth, and today people are asking themselves whether they can trust their finance minister," he added. "This is why they are taking to the streets."

MK Stav Shaffir, a fellow member of the Labor Party and another star to rise from the protest movement, participated in the Tel Aviv march as well. "It is exciting to be here between thousands of citizens who demand a fair budget for the entire Israeli society and not just for the wealthy," Shaffir said. "We will continue to fight from the streets and from the Knesset, until we succeed."

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said if "Netanyahu and Lapid thought the social protest to be a thing of the past," they are in for a surprise.

"Anyone who declares war on the people, will find himself facing the people," he said.

In Ramat Gan, meanwhile, some 300 people marched toward the home of Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom to protest a plan to import gas to Israel. They blocked roads and clashed with police. At least one protester was briefly detained. The marchers were later set to join the central demonstration in Tel Aviv.

Some 400 rallied in Jerusalem and 200 demonstrated in Haifa. Similar events were expected to take place in other towns, including Ashdod and Modiin.

"The time to resume the struggle has come. We all know it," the movement's organizers wrote on its Facebook page.

"Instead of a murderous budget that raises the value-added and income taxes and deprives workers, independents, housewives and the elderly, the people demand [the state] to stop giving gifts to the tycoons, to reclaim the natural resources and to stop pouring funds on isolated settlements," the statement continued.

"The money should be invested in kids and the elderly, on our welfare and on housing in Israel."

Hours before the rallies were set to begin, Lapid released a Facebook post answering constituents' questions about the state budget and assuring them that the allocation of funds may still be revised.

"These cuts, which are necessary, are just the first step, and it will pass quickly," he wrote. "It will be followed by reform, which we will enact to reduce the cost of living and improve the working man's life."

Maya Agayev, a 35-year-old Tel Aviv resident who attended Saturday's march, said she was disappointed with Lapid's performance as foreign minister.

"We had great expectations for Yair Lapid, who promised us heaven and earth and played a trick on his voters," she charged. "He deceived the entire public. We should get rid of him as soon as possible if there is nothing he can do against Bibi's policies."

Alon Lee-Green, one of the activists heading the renewed round of protests, accused Netanyahu and Lapid of choosing Israel's rich over the middle class.

"Bibi and Lapid had all the options on the table," he said on Saturday. "They made their choice So we say here tonight: The tycoons should pay, and not us. The awakening is palpable."

In recent days a lively public debate over the social protest's nature has resurged. If in the summer of 2011 the movement tried to appeal to a wide cross section of Israeli society, this time the political tone is much more conspicuous; many of the organizers are affiliated with leftists parties and groups.

"In 2011, most of the politicians could get away with making empty promises," says Yonatan Levy, another prominent activist within the movement. "Now the camps are much more clearly divided, because it's evident who is acting toward social justice and who is recycling the same old policies that got us out on the streets in the first place."

Israeli protesters clashing with police in Ramat Gan, May 11, 2013.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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