Thousands March for Social Justice in Israel's Major Cities

At least 7,000 demonstrators march in Tel Aviv; smaller crowds take to the streets in Jerusalem and Haifa.

Thousands demonstrated for social justice on Saturday night in Israel's three largest cities in an effort to rejuvenate the movement that swept the country last summer with tent cities and weekly demonstrations.

Many of the protesters, especially in Tel Aviv and Haifa, were from the Meretz and Hadash parties, as well as from leftist youth movements.

In Tel Aviv, at least 7,000 people marched from the Habima Theater to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Demonstrators chanted "The people demand social justice" and "We the majority have taken to the streets."

The band Izabo, which represented Israel in the Eurovision contest last week, performed at the Tel Aviv rally.

In Jerusalem, around 1,000 demonstrators marched from Menorah Park to Paris Square, holding posters saying "Money, politics, underworld," "The 2013 budget will not pass" and "Social justice now."

In Haifa, around 500 demonstrators marched from Meyerhoff Square to Ben-Gurion Boulevard. Many of the marchers held signs with anti-racism messages. Speakers included Prof. Yossi Yonah and subcontracted teachers.

Yonah, a member of the panel set up as an alternative to the Trajtenberg committee on socioeconomic change, slammed the Trajtenberg panel. "This time we're taking to the streets to let the government know it can't pull the wool over our eyes anymore. We demanded social justice and got a committee whose entire mission was to deceive us," he said.

"We demanded a change in priorities, but got cosmetic changes. The prices of electricity, fuel and water, which are under government supervision, are rising," he added.

"We've learned mathematics and economics since then; we see how they're trying to cheat us with tricks. We're more aware of our rights, and we'll fight for them .... We know things can be different. We want a just and decent society, with compassion."

Shahin Nessar, a social activist from Haifa, addressed the crowd in Arabic. "This year we're going all the way, until the government of poverty, discrimination, racism and occupation falls down," he said.

Itzik Alrov, who initiated last year's cottage cheese protest, told Haaretz he feared that the social protest would be linked to a political party or parties.

"I'm here to fight against the cost of living, politics notwithstanding ," he said in Tel Aviv. "I'm afraid the protest will be seen as belonging to one political direction. It's much bigger than what they're trying to make out with hollow, arrogant political statements.

The organizers said in a statement that "our renewed call stems from grief and anger - we've been fighting for a whole year, with the complete support of most of the Israelis, for the image of Israeli society.

"But the government is intensifying the destructive social processes it is advancing. Israelis demand recognition of their distress and a significant policy change, but the government continues to ignore them," the statement said.

"Instead of worrying about the working people and weaker classes, Netanyahu's government is promoting a policy solely for the benefit of the rich and connected, leaving the middle and lower classes behind."

Three weeks ago, thousands of Israelis took part in social justice rallies across the country, with the largest occurring in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.

Tel Aviv rally June 2, 2012 (Dudu Bachar)
Dudu Bachar
Tel Aviv rally June 2, 2012 (Tomer Appelbaum)
Tomer Appelbaum