Protesters plan new political party


After the biggest night of protests in Israel's history, the tent sites that launched the nationwide campaign for a new social and financial agenda six months ago were being dismantled this week.

The biggest question facing the protest movement now is what political impact will it have in the long term.

Throughout the past month and a half, politicians have been discouraged from taking part in the rallies, but now some of the protest leaders are being quietly courted by the main political parties to join them ahead of the elections expected to take place next year.

At least one movement, the National Left, which took a central, behind-the-scenes role in organising the protests, is planning to become a new political party before the next elections.

The most recent polls suggest that as many as 20 per cent of the voters would consider voting for a new party with a social agenda.

Rachel Azaria, one of the leaders of the protest movement in the capital, a member of a local Jerusalem party and, so far, not affiliated on the national political level, said: "What is happening is, first of all, a change in the national discourse, which I think will continue to evolve over the next five years. It doesn't have to take the form of a new party, but we will see in the next elections all the current parties addressing the social agenda like never before."

Between 400,000 and 500,000 Israelis took to the streets on Saturday night for what was originally billed as the "Million March". Still, it was probably the largest demonstration in Israel's history, with an estimated 350,000 marching through Tel Aviv, over 50,000 in Jerusalem, 30,000 in Haifa and thousands more in other locations around the country.

Following the demonstration, the organisers announced that they were taking down the tents on Rothschild Boulevard where the movement began in mid-June and at other sites around the country. But while the main sites were dismantled, some of those living in the tents and makeshift tents, especially low-income and homeless families in towns like Holon and Lod, announced they would be staying on.

"For the protesters in Tel Aviv, this was all about the protest," said Motti Iluz in Lod, "for us this was about two generations of poverty: we don't have anywhere to go."

Some of the tent sites are earmarked to become debating arenas, where activists will convene public discussions. "In Jerusalem, we have decided to proceed from protest to dialogue," said Ms Azaria. "Two or three times a week, we will meet at the Horse Park, where the tents stood, for discussions on the identity of Israeli society."

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