Hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads in central Tel Aviv for several hours on Friday afternoon in protest of a series of price increases, in the first Israeli installment of the “yellow vest” protest that has rocked France for the past few weeks.
Hoping to replicate the French success and to mobilize the masses in similar fashion to the 2011 social protests, some 600 protesters blocked the Azrieli junction and several adjacent roads while dressed in the signature yellow vests, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of “robbing” the people.
Some of the protesters attempted at one point to block the Ayalon Highway which runs through the city, and at least ten people were arrested on suspicion of disrupting public order and assaulting police officers.
Israel has recently seen a wave of price hikes in electricity, water, gas and cellphone bills, as well as food, drinks, insurance and property tax, with an increasing number of companies raising their prices.
Many of the protesters held signs and chanted slogans targeting Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who in October approved a dramatic pension increase for police staffers that cost some NIS 20 billion ($5.3 billion) and prompted significant budget cuts for pretty much all ministries and government services.
“We are going to the streets to stop the price hikes, to weaken the monopolies, and reduce the cost of living weighing heavily on all Israeli citizens. That is the heart of the struggle,” the protest organizers said in a statement.
Attempting to prevent accusations of using the cost issue to mask a politically motivated protest, they added that “every attempt by politicians — from the left or the right — to appropriate the struggle or its results is doomed to failure. This struggle belongs to the Israeli people, and it will stay that way. The responsibility for changing [the situation] lies with the government.”
But the protest also featured several lawmakers from the opposition Yesh Atid party, with MK Meir Cohen accusing the government of detachment from its citizens over the electricity price hikes ahead of the winter season, and MK Pnina Tamano-Shata saying Netanyahu and Kahlon had “failed.”
“The government needs to discuss this crisis already in its next meeting on Sunday, and decide to put an end to the price increases before the whole country will boil,” said Shai Cohen, one of the organizers.
The “yellow vest” protests in France began on November 17 over fuel tax increases, but snowballed into a revolt over living standards as well as perceived indifference by President Emmanuel Macron to the problems of ordinary citizens.
Underscoring attempts to ease tensions, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has confirmed that a proposed constitutional reform, which was to be debated in January, has been postponed to allow time for more discussions over local grievances.
AFP contributed to this report.