Art offers his perspective as a movement progressive activist.
An anthem of the protestors has been “If I were a rich man” from Fiddler on the Roof:
The social justice protest movement in Israel, one which is growing by the day, is finally getting some American media attention. Some. It is a huge story around the world. Never have Israelis taken to the streets for weeks like this for social justice. Over 1/4 the population of Israel has now hit the streets to demand a better life. The middle class is up in arms over crippling housing costs, high food prices, childcare expenses, and a government system not working for the ordinary person.
Gilad Perry, a progressive leader in Israel, emailed and posted online this summary out of what they are fighting for:
Recently, the cost of living in Israel has become so high that the middle class, who maintains this country, has been almost entirely eroded. The situation is so extreme that it is difficult to supply the most basic necessities, such as – housing, health, education, food, work, and environment. For the sake of comparison – an Israeli earning an average wage must work for 132 months in order to purchase an average apartment, where as an average American would have to work for only 60 months’ pay. A container of cottage cheese in Israel costs 1.6 times the amount that it costs in England, and baby formula costs 2.5 times the amount that it costs in the U.S. This situation is similar with other food products, with gas prices, education, and more. All of this is despite the fact that the average Israeli works more hours than the average citizens of almost all of the other OECD countries. The average Israeli retires at an older age and receives lower wages than most of other OECD countries (3 times less than the average Australian and half of the wage of the average American).
All of this is taking place despite the fact that Israel’s economic growth is amongst the highest in the world. This can be explained by the following statistic: Israel ranks fourth amongst western countries in terms of inequality in wealth distribution (GINI Index) – the economic growth is not trickling down.
Over the last two weeks, I am excited to say that mass amounts of people – young and old – from every point on the political spectrum, unexpectedly decided to go out into the streets to demand that our country be returned to us.
Hundreds of thousands (!) are taking to the streets as a part of a non-violent struggle to voice their distress.
This is not a political struggle. It is not a struggle against this government or any other. In fact, each of the last several governments has taken us in the same direction. This is an Israeli struggle; a Jewish struggle. The struggle is made up of my partners in the Dror Israel Movement, the students, the Histadrut (Labor Federation), the doctors, the teachers, the social workers, and many additional organizations, but it is primarily a spontaneous struggle of middle class working people. At the head of this effort are the young people whom have created and are living in ‘tent cities’ in the streets of Israel. The Israeli people have never seen such a wide consensus towards a just path (87% fully support the struggle and its goals).
The protests were sparked by a young woman unable to find housing because the prices were so high:
The protests began as a Facebook protest group initiated by 25-year-old Daphne Leef. According to media reports, major renovations in her building meant Leef had to vacate the central Tel Aviv apartment where she had lived for the past three years; she found that apartment rental prices in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area had skyrocketed. Leef pitched a tent in Habima Square in Tel Aviv, and opened a Facebook protest page, where she invited others to join her protest. In response, protesters gathered in the streets around Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, as well as in Zion Square in Jerusalem..
One woman had enough, pitched a tend, used Facebook and Twitter and helped ignite a movement. Long simmering socio-economic issues have caused a uprising on the streets.
Mothers have gathered with strollers demanding equitable healthcare access and cheaper costs for childcare. Parents are protesting in a yellow balloon solidarity movement for their children:
“We just can’t take it anymore,” Yael Barda, one of the protest organizers told Ynet. “We all need a home, we all need education, we need to see that raising a child in this country doesn’t require a mortgage. We’ve had enough of the gaps between low wages and the cost of living.”
Furious parents have just begun the fight:
Barda stressed the protest was not political: “The government has to understand that we want to change the system. This isn’t about Bibi. Who will you replace him with? As far as we are concerned, elections are not the answer. We see ourselves as a social movement for change.”
MK Ilan Ghilon (Meretz), who arrived at the Tel Aviv rally with his daughter and granddaughter to show his support, told Ynet that, “Citizens here are asking the State to provide them with what they’re entitled to. Not just housing – but everything. A state isn’t a business – if it was, it would have gone under.”
Anat Rosilio, another of the protest’s organizers, added: “Our next step is to devise a strategic plan which will serve our goals and include a free education law and a decrease in the prices of all basic products.”
Israeli PM Netanyahu, under brutal pressure to respond, came out on July 26th with a housing reform plan that was seen by many as a half measure that would not work. The protestors rejected it, especially since it utilized privatization, something which is at root of the housing crisis to begin with. Kadima head Livni slammed it:
Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni slammed Netanyahu’s affordable housing plan, saying that he was “taking down tents, not building homes.
“He doesn’t understand that the problem isn’t technical, but fundamental. The middle class needs to be unburdened, and for that the national policy must be changed. Marginal solutions are not enough.”
The 8/6/11 rally was the largest in Israeli history. Over 400,000 chocked the cities of Israel demanding a better life for the poor and middle class. An op-ed from Sima Kamdon directed at PM Netanyahu shows the mood:
I think it was the greatest no-confidence protest in the history of the state; because the question, Mr. Prime Minister, is no longer how many people hit the streets last night, but rather, how many did not. …You should have been there, Mr. Prime Minister, in order to understand it. Believe me, watching it on television isn’t enough. The sense of energy cannot be sensed through the screen; this excitement and sense of solidarity. … In order to feel it, one must march with this giant human wave and scream along with it “the people, demand, social justice,” in one voice, with all your heart and soul. ..
Had you been there yesterday, Mr. Prime Minister, you too would have been touched upon seeing the hundreds of thousands of people. Yes, sir, hundreds of thousands of people who marched there. ..You would have seen a whole nation that used to be indifferent, dispirited and hopeless – but came back to life. …
I saw the parents of young children carrying their kids on their shoulders or pushing strollers. I also saw the parents of these young people, as well as grandmothers and grandfathers who came with their grandchildren. I saw among the crowds people who can easily make ends meet. They can even help hundreds of others. I saw adults whose eyes were shining and hearts went out to the tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of youngsters who led them in an amazingly orderly fashion through the streets of Tel Aviv. They looked around in amazement, with pride, with jealousy even…
Yes, with jealousy; they would give so much to be part of this young, inspiring generation. …They must have asked themselves last night, where were we all these years? What have we done? Why were we silent? .. Why didn’t we do the job for these kids? And how did we abandon them to indifferent governments, without a political horizon, without financial security, and yes, without social justice.
PM Netanyahu for weeks struggled to come to grips with this movement and still is groping, finally deciding a committee would meet with some of the protestors and try and draw up a plan. Try.
Meanwhile a call for one million Israelis to march in September is the new focus. Palestinians also plan marches in September, a possible nightmare scenario for PM Netanyahu’s government.
May we see the day when Americans go to the streets in such a way the government is forced to respond and try to comply with the demand of the middle class.
Here is one of the protest movement’s Facebook pages with lots of info.
Also here is the position paper of the protestors on housing.