Last updated: 13 August, 2011

New social justice protests in Israel

Tens of thousands gathered for fresh demonstrations Saturday outside Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, after leaders of a hugely popular social movement called for rallies across Israel to protest high prices and living conditions.

At 9:00 pm local time (1800 GMT), some 50,000 people were mobilised throughout the country, police said.

Protest leaders said they were hoping for a turnout larger than last Saturday’s, when more than 300,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv and other cities calling for “social justice” and a “welfare state.”

In Beersheva, the centre of the latest protests, organisers were hoping to attract tens of thousands of participants from the Negev region.

In Haifa, the capital of the north, about 25,000 demonstrators gathered, police said, without giving a breakdown of the number of protesters in every city or town.

There were 5,000 in Afula, in Galilee, also in the north, 2,000 in Modiin in central Israel, and 1,500 in Eilat, in the extreme south.

At Beersheva’s main square, a huge banner read: “The Negev awakens.”

Demonstrators carried banners and placards that read: “the south is angry,” and “toward a welfare state — now.”

Crowds chanted, “the people demand social justice,” the slogan of the protests since they began a month ago with the appearance of the first protest tent along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv’s most upscale district.

The goal of the latest protests, organisers said,

was to expand the geographic and demographic scope of the movement, as so far the middle class has been the driving force behind social justice rallies.

Israel has been gripped since mid-July by the rapidly growing protest movement demanding cheaper housing, education and health care.

Last Saturday’s protests called for for “social justice” and a “welfare state.”

An opinion poll released by Channel 10 television Tuesday showed that 88 percent of respondents said they supported the movement, with 53 percent saying they are willing take part in protests.

Under pressure from the protests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was willing to alter his approach to the free-market economy and meet the demands of the demonstrators. He created a commission to propose reforms and present recommendations to the government within a month.