Social justice protests return to Israel's streets

By Ben Hartman, June 7, 2012
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Last summer’s “social justice” protests returned to the streets of Tel Aviv last Saturday night, when 5,000 people marched through the city centre in a renewed call for social change.

The event, backed by smaller demonstrations in Haifa and Jerusalem, included many familiar chants from last year’s protests, such as “the people demand social justice” and “the people demand a welfare state”, as well as calls for Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to step down.

Yonatan Levy, one of the main organisers of last year’s demonstrations, called Saturday’s protest “the opening shot of the summer” and said that in the coming days activists would devise new protest methods, including consumer boycotts and country-wide outreach efforts to enlist new supporters.

The “J14” protests began last July 14, when 26-year-old Tel Avivian Daphni Leef pitched a tent on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv to protest against soaring housing prices. Soon tent cities sprouted all over the country, ushering in weekly social issue protests which became among the largest ever seen in Israel.

Nearly a year later, Mr Netanyahu is stronger than ever, leading one of the largest coalitions in Israel’s history, with elections a long way off. The social protest movement which brought more than 400,000 people onto the streets of Tel Aviv on one night last September, and presented Mr Netanyahu with the biggest domestic crisis of his premiership, is now fractured and aimless, with no clear leadership.

Daphni Leef did not take part in Saturday night’s protest, nor did many other prominent J14 activists. The schism revolves around claims that new protest leader Stav Shafir and her colleagues have become “too political”, enlisting the support of the left-wing Meretz and centre-left Labour parties to help kick-start the summer protests anew.

When asked if tent cities would again spread across Israel, Mr Levy said protesters were not looking at a repeat of last summer. But he said that now that they understood that the current government has had a chance to change things — and decided not to — the anti-government sentiment was much stronger than last year.
Mr Levy said he had no doubt protests would return in force — “because nothing has changed since last summer, things have only got worse.”

Last updated: 11:07am, June 7 2012