Focus Shifts From Tel Aviv to Outlying Towns as 75,000 Protesters Call for Change

25,000 assemble in Haifa, 20,000 people fill Rager Boulevard in Be’er Sheva, in Afula, some 15,000 people gather, more than 1,500 people march down the city’s main street in Eilat.

Some 75,000 people came out in protest against Israel’s high cost of living last night in 15 cities and towns across Israel, with the largest rallies in Be’er Sheva and Haifa, each drawing 25,000.

“The is a much bigger success than we expected. We are amazed at the show of strength in the south and the north, and glad that the voice of all of Israel, not just Tel Aviv, is being heard,” said Roi Neuman, a protest leader.

Hagai Frid - Protesters - 14082011
Hagai Frid

In Haifa, the leader of Haifa’s Carmel tent city, Yossi Baruch, told the protesters gathered in the German Colony: “We know what we want. We want a welfare state. Free education for every girl and boy, from the moment maternity leave ends and until the child finishes a doctorate. A welfare state whose citizens are paid a fair wage. This is a long-range struggle and it doesn’t matter if Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] falls in a week, a month or a year. Bibli will fall. So will Steinitz and so will Lieberman, he said, referring to the finance minister and the foreign minister, respectively.

But another activist, Guy Goldstein from the Dror Israel movement, said from the dais: “We are not against a specific person, we’re against a policy, we are for a welfare state.”

Arab speakers reiterated the slogan, in Arabic, “The people demand the fall of the tycoons.”

A representative of the downtown neighborhood of Hadar, Hamoudi Hujeirat, called for cooperation between Jews and Arabs. “We are one people” he said, to the cheers of the crowd.

Raja Za’atara, an organizer of the tent city in the disadvantaged Wadi Nisnas neighborhood, said: “In the wadi not many people eat cottage cheese,” a reference to the middle-class roots of the current protest. “But a hungry child is a hungry child, and it doesn’t matter if he is Arab or Jewish. This struggle gives hope to everyone,” he added.

The organizers of the Haifa protest said they had funded the rally themselves, among other ways by selling T-shirts, and that the municipality had donated the stage equipment.

Writer Sami Michael told the crowd in Arabic: “At age 85, it’s hard to be optimistic but the younger generation today makes me feel optimistic. Today the public is showing for the first time a connection between classes, between cities and villages, between Arabs and Jews, and I don’t remember anything like this in Haifa. The impact of the Middle East has reached us, too,” he said.

In Be’er Sheva more than 20,000 people filled Rager Boulevard. Among the artists appearing at the rally was Margalit Tzan’ani, who aroused the ire of the protesters last week when she criticized the movement. “I was never against the protest. I come from such places on the periphery. I came to support the people here...”

Neighborhood leader Sigal Keren called from the dais a comment on Netanyahu: “You went with the tycoons, and what have they done to you now...they dictate to you what to do. I warn you: listen to the people...” she said.

In Afula, some 15,000 people gathered in the city’s main square. The chairman of the National Students Union, Itzik Shmuli said: “Mr. Prime Minister, here in Afula, you received votes equal to 42 Knesset seats...You disappointed them, you abandoned them. You must make a socioeconomic U-turn.”

In Eilat, more than 1,500 people marched down the city’s main street to the tourist promenade, ending at a rally attended by hundreds of the vacation city’s guests, which police said took place without incident.