Hundreds of Thousands of Israelis Protest High Cost of Living

Posted August 6th, 2011 at 4:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Hundreds of thousands of Israelis rallied in the streets of Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities Saturday night, to protest the country's high cost of living, and to demand reforms aimed at achieving social justice.

Israeli police and media estimated the turnout of the protests at around 300,000 people in Tel Aviv, at least 20,000 in Jerusalem and thousands of others in communities across Israel's north, center and south. The coordinated rallies were believed to be among the largest in Israeli history.

The demonstrations began in mid-July with social activists setting up a tent camp on an upscale Tel Aviv street to highlight the high cost of real estate prices, and to call for affordable housing.

The movement has since spread throughout the country, attracting parents, doctors, teachers and other professionals angered by low salaries, high taxes and rising prices of gas and food.

Protest leaders say the demonstrators want the government to reform Israel's economic system in a way that eases the cost of living and reduces the wide income gaps between the rich and poor.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative government has responded to the protests by passing a law to free up land for construction and offering tax breaks. Protest leaders have dismissed those steps as insufficient.

Mr. Netanyahu also has vowed to avoid what he calls hasty and irresponsible measures that could drag Israel's growing economy into a Europe-style debt crisis.

In Saturday's rally in Tel Aviv, protesters marched from the tent camp on Rothschild Boulevard to the Israeli defense ministry compound and other government buildings. Jerusalem demonstrators gathered in the city's Paris Square and walked toward Mr. Netanyahu's residence.