Last updated: 30 July, 2011

Tens of thousands protest cost of living in Israel

Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in 10 cities across the country on Saturday evening to protest against the high cost of living, AFP correspondents reported.

More than 30,000 demonstrated in downtown Tel Aviv as thousands more marched in Jerusalem, in the northern city of Haifa and in Nazareth.

Organisers of the protests said that five thousand were marching in Jerusalem towards the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, carrying banners that read “A whole generation wants a future.”

Demonstrations over the high cost of living spread in recent weeks throughout Israel, with demonstrators setting up protest camps to demand affordable housing and denounce social inequalities.

On Thursday protesters occupied the roof of the Tel Aviv stock exchange, a day after the powerful Histadrut labour union threw its support behind the demonstrators.

Histadrut said it was issuing Netanyahu with an ultimatum.

“If by Saturday evening, the prime minister has failed to meet with our secretary general Ofer Eini to discuss solutions to lift this social crisis, Histadrut will use all means at our disposal to support the demands of the protesters,” a spokeswoman for the union told AFP earlier this week.

She declined to say whether Histadrut would call on its members to join a general strike announced by Israel’s Union of Local Authorities on Wednesday.

The August 1 one-day strike will see local authority offices shut down and rubbish collections halted.

Since 2004, Israel’s economic growth rate has averaged 4.5 percent, while unemployment has fallen to around six percent from close to 11 percent over the same period.

But gaps between Israel’s rich and poor are among the widest in the Western world. In 2011, Israel ranked fifth for unequal income distribution among the 34 member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Netanyahu was forced to cancel a trip to Poland this week to address demonstrators and offered them reforms which they rejected as insufficient.