Some 2,500 people filled Habima Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest Israel’s high cost of living and soaring housing prices, according to police. Support for the campaign topped 22,000 on social media, and attracted people from across the country.
In recent weeks, Israel saw a return to tent protests in central locations, including Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, in echoes of the widespread social justice protests over a decade ago. Since then housing, cost of living, and the relative costs of Tel Aviv compared to other world cities have only gone up.
The small protest Saturday was a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of people who poured into the streets in the summer of 2011 to demand government action over rising prices. At the height of the demonstrations, an estimated 400,000 people turned out for the weekly protest.
Saturday’s protest organizers have said that they do not just want to make noise — they want action, and will put together a list of clear demands with the help of financial experts to present to government authorities. Chief among the complaints is the rate at which rental costs are rising – 10 percent year on year, according to Yad2, the most popular Israeli website for advertising apartment rentals, but 30% to 40% according to those whose rental contracts are currently being renegotiated in Tel Aviv.
The organizers of the new movement stress that they are apolitical and hope to see legislation that will make significant changes to the housing market for everyone.
The focus on common ground was dominant in speeches on Saturday.
Gal Shor, one of the protest organizers, told the crowd that many Israelis have become “friars [suckers]… real friars!”
“Israel ranks seventh in the world in terms of the countries [where people] work the most hours per week. I would expect that with so many hours of work we would become millionaires, but that’s not the case, most of us are not even able to close out the month. So where does the money go?”
“Everything is expensive here and when someone dares to open their mouth and complain, they shout at him to move to the periphery and stop complaining. But we all know that all over the country prices have gone up, and not just in the center. So leave? To Berlin? I was raised to love this country…we have no other country and I want to build my life here.”
Shor suggested, anecdotally, that the economic challenges in Israel are so great that a large number of young people are leaving the country because they do not see an economic future for themselves or their children. Israel does not collect specific data on residents emigrating from the country, for while the Central Bureau of Statistics keeps a record of the number of Israelis who leave the country’s borders in any given month (Hebrew), it does not track their reasons for doing so.
Shor, a medical masseur by profession, called on people to exercise their right to vote and to use that vote to change the situation. Typically, around 30% of those eligible to vote do not turn out.
“Instead of writing angry comments on the Internet, send messages to Knesset members, talk to your friends and make sure that this issue is not dropped from the headlines… Let’s make sure to remind them that we will not be silent until prices fall and we can live here with dignity,” he said.