A Good Year for the Social Protest

Though they haven't achieved everything they wanted, the protesters did effect a real change in the balance of power between the public and the government.

Saturday, July 14, will mark the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of the social protest. On a Thursday exactly one year ago, Daphni Leef went out and set up a tent on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard to protest the city's exorbitant rents. That one small tent blossomed into an enormous protest movement that rocked the government and made real changes in our lives.

For some reason, many people claim that the protest didn't achieve anything and that the government nibbled away at the Trajtenberg report on socioeconomic reform until little was left. But the truth is completely different. The Trajtenberg report led to the enactment of key changes that benefited the middle class.

In taxation, a revolution occurred: Rather than continuing to lower direct taxes, the government raised them for the upper classes while lowering indirect taxes. In education, the government decided to institute free public education for all children from age 3, and to create after-school educational programs for children 3 to 9 in the country's outlying areas.

Regarding the cost of living, there has been a gradual reduction in customs duties and purchase taxes. Just this Wednesday, for instance, the finance minister announced a gradual reduction of customs duties on textiles, electronics and food, and this should lower prices - though it's true that customs duties should be cut even further.

Regarding housing, the news isn't as good. Subsidized housing is still earmarked mainly for the ultra-Orthodox rather than the middle class, which is collapsing under the weight of work, tax and military service.

But this isn't the end of the list. The most important change took place in public awareness. It suddenly became clear to the people that if they unite and demonstrate, their leaders will take fright, pay attention, and even change direction. There is a clear line from the demonstrations against higher gasoline prices in early 2011 to the protest against cottage cheese prices, which grew into the housing protest, which in turn developed into the "social protest."

And the protest is now spreading to other areas. Just a week ago, 30,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv in favor of drafting the ultra-Orthodox, in order to equalize the burden of service and advance social justice.

Therefore, activists in the social protest shouldn't feel as if an opportunity has been wasted. They didn't achieve everything they wanted, but they did effect real change, which is visible not only in socioeconomic matters, but in their increased weight in the balance of power between the public and the government.

Daniel Bar-On