Hundreds of demonstrators wearing fluorescent safety vests came out in Tel Aviv on Friday to protest Israel's high cost of living, borrowing from the Yellow Vest movement that has shaken France.
In Tel Aviv, the demonstrators blocked the Azrieli intersection in the city center; 10 were arrested on allegations of disorderly conduct during clashes with the police.
"Next week there will be 10,000 people here," said one of the organizers, David Mizrahi, as he was arrested.
The organizers added: "We are taking to the streets to stop price increases, to strip the monopolies of their power, and to lower the cost of living that weighs on all Israelis. This is the heart of the struggle."
The protests are focusing on recently announced price hikes. The Israel Electric Corporation is putting up rates by between 6.9 percent and 8.1 percent, and the Water Authority is increasing prices by 4.5 percent in January. Several food manufacturers have also announced price hikes.
Food maker Osem said this week that it would increase prices by 2 percent to 4.5 percent at the start of the year, while rival Tnuva is opting for 2 percent to 3 percent. Also, bakeries have asked that the retail cost of price-controlled bread be allowed to rise 3.4 percent.
According to the protest's organizers, the cabinet must discuss these increases at its next meeting Sunday and "decide to halt price increases before the entire country is on fire. Every family in Israel will lose hundreds to thousands of shekels a month."
Shai Cohen, one of the organizers, said that "the public is unable and unwilling to pay more. Electricity and water aren't a luxury."
Mizrahi, who takes care of his disabled mother, said that "extra hundreds of shekels in food, electricity and water prices is a heavy and painful burden. The yellow vest protest is a popular demonstration of all Israelis who are suffocating – young people, single mothers, middle-class families and low-income families."
Ilana, a protester from Kiryat Ono east of Tel Aviv, called the price hikes "great exploitation." "We need to keep on going; only that will help," she said. "More young people need to come here. Those who didn’t come out onto the streets today will be left behind when they're on the street" homeless, she added.
Several politicians have expressed an interest in the protest, including Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid party chairman and former finance minister. He has had himself photographed wearing a yellow vest, a gesture that has sparked criticism on social media.
Lapid was not at the Azrieli intersection Friday, but protesters called out to politicians from his party: "We don’t want politicians, this is a people’s protest."
The National Union of Israeli Students announced that it was joining the protests and called for a large rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening December 22.
"We're returning to the streets because we can't remain silent any longer," said Ram Shefa, the union's chairman. "Prices are rising and we're turning the other cheek for another slap in the face."
He added: "It's not a matter of right or left, even though some people are trying to label it that way. The high cost of living affects and harms every citizen throughout the country."
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