Sunday, September 4, 2011

Biggest rally in Israel's history presses PM

Hundreds of thousands marched Saturday for lower living costs in the largest such rally in Israel's history, bolstering a social change movement and mounting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take on economic reform.
Protest leaders called it "the moment of truth" for the grassroots movement that has swollen since July from a cluster of student tent-squatters into a countrywide mobilization of Israel's middle class.
"An entire generation wants a future," read one banner as demonstrators flooded the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and cities throughout Israel, shouting "the people demand social justice."
Netanyahu has warned he would not be able to satisfy all the protesters' demands, ranging from tax cuts, to expansion of free education and bigger government housing budgets.
Organizers said over 450,000 people took part in the demonstrations. Police put the number at least 300,000.
Protests on that scale in Israel, with a population of 7.7 million, are usually held over issues of war and peace.
"Tonight is the pinnacle moment of a historic protest," Amir Rochman, 30, an activist from Israel's Green Party said.
"Israel will no longer be the same," Itzik Shmuli, head of the National Student Union and one of the protest leaders said at the rally. "Our new Israel demands real change in the priorities of its government."
Though the turnout was lower than the ambitious one million some had hoped for, commentators said the movement had made its mark on Israel by catapulting the economy onto a political agenda long-dominated by security concerns and diplomacy.
Social media also played a role in the Israeli protests, inspired partly by the impact of Arab Spring demonstrations.
Since it began, the popular movement has upstaged a diplomatic face-off with the Palestinians for U.N. recognition of statehood and has posed the greatest challenge yet to Netanyahu, halfway into his term.
Although Israel enjoys a low 5.5 unemployment rate and a growing economy, business cartels and wage disparities have kept many from feeling the benefit. Many protesters come from the middle class which bares a heavy tax burden and sustains the conscript military.More...

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