Michael Blum, AFP
Last updated: 29 October, 2011

Renewed Israeli social protests draw smaller crowd

Tens of thousands of Israelis angered by the spiralling cost of living renewed street protests on Saturday night after an eight-week break but turnout was meagre compared with earlier rallies.

In Tel Aviv, the focal point of the evening’s activity, around 50,000 people marched to the downtown Rabin Square to hear speeches and watch performances by a satirical group and rock acts.

They carried banners saying that “the people demand public housing,” and “the people demand a bigger budget.”

Haaretz newspaper’s website said that around 5,000 marched in Jerusalem and 200 in Rishin Lezion, just south of Tel Aviv.

A planned march in the southern city of Beersheva was called off after Palestinian militants launched a barrage of rockets across the border from Gaza after an Israeli air strike killed Islamic militants there.

Local media said that other protests went ahead as planned in the northern city of Haifa, the town of Kiryat Shmona and the Red Sea resort of Eilat and elsewhere.

On September 3, almost half a million Israelis nationwide took part in the largest demonstration against the soaring cost of living and house prices since the movement arose in mid-July.

Saturday night’s return to the streets had been widely seen as a test of the movement’s continued vitality as the weather becomes cooler and media attention turns to other issues.

“Saturday’s rallies will test if the movement can still convince masses of Israelis to hit the streets and protest, after almost two months when the movement has scarcely been in the press,’ the Jerusalem Post wrote on Friday.

“Go out in huge numbers to show our elected leaders that we are still here,” the protest movement’s website urged.

It called on supporters to demand that parliament scrap the 2012 budget and submit a new version “taking into account the demands of the people.”

The social movement erupted after young Israelis angry at the cost of housing in Tel Aviv pitched tents in the middle of an upscale neighbourhood to express their frustration.

The tent protest quickly mushroomed, with dozens of similar encampments sprouting in towns and cities across the country.

It won widespread support, staging weekly demonstrations that eventually attracted hundreds of thousands of Israelis, breaking records in the Jewish state and captivating the local media.

But after the September 3 rally, its leaders announced the dismantling of the tent cities and said that they would seek to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government through other means.

On October 9, Israel’s cabinet approved the outline of economic reforms intended to address the rising frustrations, but protest organisers have said they do not go far enough.

The cabinet is to announce specific measures, such as cancelling a planned rise in fuel tax and reducing sales tax, at its weekly meeting on Sunday.