The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 32      September 12, 2011

Protests in Israel involve Jews,
Arabs: ‘It’s a bit of a new era’
(front page)
Refusing to bow to the Israeli government’s attempts to derail the protests, leaders of demonstrations this summer against rising prices and deteriorating living conditions have called actions September 3 in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa. What began as a tent encampment against high rents in mid-July has spread across the country, in many places involving Jews and Arabs.

In the latest round of protests August 27, 10,000 marched in Tel Aviv, 2,000 in Jerusalem, and 4,500 in Rishon Letzion, southeast of Tel Aviv. There were also demonstrations in Katzrin in the Golan Heights and Kibbutz Ma’anit.

“It’s not just demands around housing. We want full employment, we want free education,” Stave Erez, a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said in a phone interview. Erez heads the Academic Committee of the National Union of Israeli Students.

“We don’t look at things as Jews versus Arabs,” she said. “We want to have the basic necessities for everyone who lives in Israel. We are all affected.”

The protests began when film school graduate Daphni Leef, evicted when she couldn’t pay a rent increase, invited others to set up tents with her in Tel Aviv and demand government action.

At an August 24 press conference, Leef said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of a commission to make proposals to ameliorate the crisis was “cynical and deceptive,” since it has no power to carry out “fundamental … change in the socioeconomic order of priorities.”

The protests have given a boost to workers’ struggles and fights for democratic rights. Nearly 200 taxi drivers August 24 stopped traffic near Rothschild Boulevard, the center of Tel Aviv’s tent city, protesting high gas prices and taxes.

“There was a time when gas was 15 percent of our expenses,” Yehuda Bar-Or, head of the taxi drivers’ union, told Haaretz. “Now it’s 40 percent.”

The social protest has fostered “a momentum for rights’ issues that are under debate,” Irit Rosenblum told the Militant. Rosenblum is the director of New Family, which calls for the right to civil marriage in Israel. People classified as having “no religion” and couples of mixed religious backgrounds cannot get married in Israel.

“Some 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union are not recognized as Jews,” Alex Tenzer, an activist in the Russian community, told Haaretz August 30, “and are denied the right to marry in Israel.” Tenzer said that the commission appointed by Netanyahu should remedy this denial of civil rights.

“I was at one of the recent social protests in Haifa,” Ronit Sela, from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said in a phone interview. “At first the chants were in Hebrew. But then an Arab activist got on the stage and started slogans in Arabic and the crowd echoed them. That’s the first time I’ve seen that at a demonstration like this in Israel in my life.”

In Jerusalem, where Sela has visited the tent city, “some of the protesters see this as a fight for the Jewish citizens of Israel,” she said, “while in other places it’s viewed as a fight for all who live here. It’s mixed.”

Things are changing as a result of the protest movement, Sela added. “We’ve entered a bit of a new era.”  
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