Thousands rally for social justice in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba

Thousands rally for social justice in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba

In largest demonstration since last summer’s protests ended, some call for resignation of prime minister and finance minister

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Protesters in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum on Saturday night. (photo credit: @psyBunny, Twitter)
Protesters in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum on Saturday night. (photo credit: @psyBunny, Twitter)

A week after protests resulted in violent clashes with the police, thousands of demonstrators returned to the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Saturday night, calling for social justice and protesting recent perceived police brutality.

In the largest demonstration yet since the end of the social protests in Israel last fall, some 15,000 protesters rallied in the plaza facing the Tel Aviv Art Museum after marching from the Habima Theater on Rothschild Boulevard. Another 500 protesters marched down King George Street in Jerusalem to Zion Square, where they called Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat “a dictator” and demanded that “public spaces must be made public again.”

Zion Square, which sits on the Jerusalem light rail route, was recently made off-limits to protesters.

Police were instructed to avoid clashes with protesters and keep their distance, but said ahead of the protests that they “intend to be present in large numbers, yet want to give the protesters a sense of freedom,” a Tel Aviv District police officer told Channel 10. “If necessary the police will be able to intervene in a matter of minutes.”

The District Commissioner also instructed the use of undercover agents among the demonstrators.

Protesters in Tel Aviv bore signs that read “Creating a better reality” and “Workers, not slaves,” and shouted slogans against the government and ministers.

At one point protesters in the White City ignited a dumpster filled with garbage, setting it ablaze. Firefighters arrived to extinguish it.

Later during the night, a protest tent was set up on Rothschild Boulevard, which police did not attempt to dismantle, according to Maariv.

Almost a thousand protesters broke off from the main protest to demonstrate in front of government offices in Tel Aviv, then marched north on Namir Road and blocked traffic. They were joined by protesters from the Tel Aviv Art Museum rally, all of whom proceeded to Rabin Square accompanied by a large police escort.

Retired Maj. Gen. Zeev Even-Chen, who lost his daughter in the Carmel Fire, Prof. Yossi Yona, and Itzik Amsalem, a representative of south Tel Aviv residents, spoke at the protest.

Even-Chen told the crowd that the families of the Carmel Fire victims “were silent for a year and seven months” and that the time had come to talk. He said that like the social justice activists, the families of the Carmel Fire victims were neglected by the government.

Even-Chen also said he intends to petition the High Court of Justice to force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz for their mishandling of the Carmel Fire disaster. 

Yona, a professor at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, said that the Israeli government had failed and was “not fulfilling its role in the public interest and not working for it. It works to please the rich.”

Some of the protesters demanded the resignations of Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz for failing to address Israel’s social inequalities.

In Jerusalem, many of the protesters boarded the Jerusalem light rail at the Safra Square station by City Hall, and refused to pay, forcing the train to stay at the station. After a while, police forces were able to take control of the situation and the train continued on its route.

In Haifa, some 300 people demonstrated, and a similar number demonstrated in downtown Beersheba.

Organizers of the demonstration told Army Radio that they had sought to ensure that the protest was non-violent, and, in contrast to last week’s protests, they coordinated it in advance with the police. However, according to YNet, the protesters in Jerusalem did not obtain permission to march.

Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.

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