Bearing banners, shouting slogans and calling for a better Israel and a brighter tomorrow, about 5,000 demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening for a major protest organized by the social justice movements, which put aside their differences to join forces for the event.

Not only was the turnout smaller than expected, but the demonstration, though peaceful overall, featured minor scuffles when rival activists who broke off from a separate demonstration tried to protest against the organizers and make themselves heard. They were restrained by force.

A few dozen protesters attempted to block the intersection of Kaplan Road and Begin Boulevard. They were dispersed by police at around midnight. Eight people were arrested, police said.

One person was arrested for using a mace canister against a policeman, though demonstrators claim the cop also used pepper spray against the man. Six were arrested for disturbing the peace and one was held for throwing a bottle at police.

In the aftermath of the demonstration, criticism was also voiced against Yesh Atid Party founder Yair Lapid, who was said to have exploited the event for political ends.

Protesters in Tel Aviv Saturday night. (photo credit: Tali Mayer/Flash90)

Protesters in Tel Aviv Saturday night. (photo credit: Tali Mayer/Flash90)

Before the crowd dispersed, protest leader Stav Shaffir read parts of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and said she aspired to live in a country in which solidarity was a value once more. “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu only knows how to mumble two words: Spain, Greece, Spain, Greece, and sometimes we’ll get Iran, to scare us a little,” she said.

‘We all believe in a better Israel … this is our country, this is our society, it’s our responsibility – we don’t have any other country’

“We’re here because we care about Israeli society, we’re here because we care about our children’s future,” said another speaker. “Everyone who’s here tonight believes in a more just society … we all believe in social solidarity,” he shouted.

“We can’t go on this way, with a quarter of the population of Israel living in poverty and sqaulor,” said the speaker. The government, he said, “ignores them and doesn’t see them,” raising taxes instead of minimizing the gaps in society. These taxes may constitute one percent of the price of goods, but “one percent is seventy shekels, with which [the poor] could buy the medicine they need, school supplies, meat once a week.”

“We all believe in a better Israel … this is our country, this is our society, it’s our responsibility – we don’t have any other country,” he concluded.

The demonstration began at 20:30 in front of the Tel Aviv Museum, with hundreds of protesters chanting slogans criticizing Netanyahu’s government. They were joined by Lapid, who several weeks ago announced his intention to rally at locations around the country to protest the stalemate between Likud and Kadima in their effort to legislate a replacement to the so-called Tal Law.

A second protest of about a thousand people marched from Habima Theater on Rothschild Boulevard. Upon reaching the joint demonstration at the Tel Aviv Museum, several broke away and tried to shout over the main demonstrations.

Several of the rogue demonstrators tried to mount the stage, leading to minor scuffles. Eventually organizers let one member of the second protest address the crowd, according to Walla! news.

Ahead of the protest, Bar Ilan University Legal Clinic manager Karin Elharar, who was set to speak later in the evening, told Israel Radio that she would be giving a speech because Israel had reached an “unprecedented low.” The country’s leadership, she said, was “widening the coalition … yet imposing indirect taxation which harms the lowest strata of society” – among them the beleaguered middle class.

Police closed off major thoroughfares in Tel Aviv to traffic for the duration of the event. Among them were Ibn Gvirol, Kaplan, Marmorek and segments of King George, Ben Zion, Karlibach, and Rothschild Boulevard.

Several protest leaders from both movements were expected to speak at the main rally. In addition, T-Slam band members Danni Bassan and Yizhar Ashdot were expected to perform a hit containing the line, “When was the last time you did something for somebody else?” Idan Raichel was also scheduled to perform.

The merger of the social protest movement and the movement for equality in sharing the burden of military and national service was announced at a press conference on Thursday night and comes on the heels of a week that saw both the expiration of the Tal Law — which for 10 years had granted exemptions from service for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students — with no replacement in sight, and the approval by the government of tax hikes and significant cuts in ministry budgets.