JERUSALEM – Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets nationwide on Saturday to protest rising housing prices in the largest turnout in a grass-roots movement that began two weeks ago and is demanding steps from the government to ease the burden.
The protests over housing costs have tapped into wider discontent among Israelis over the high cost of living and the growing gaps between rich and poor. Other protests include doctors striking over working conditions and pay, parents demonstrating against expensive child-rearing costs and similar outpourings over increasing gas prices.
Thousands thronged the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other major cities and chanted, “The people demand social justice.” Protesters waved Israeli flags and placards that read: “Work three jobs but don’t make ends meet,” “Killing ourselves to live,” and “Social gaps are killing us.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said more than 100,000 people in 10 cities across the country from Beersheba in the south to Kiryat Shmoneh at the northern tip protested Saturday night. Police closed major streets for the protesters to march.
The demonstrations began two weeks ago in Tel Aviv, where young activists set up a small tent encampment in a central neighborhood to draw attention to the country’s housing crunch. The protests, inspired in part by unrest in neighboring Arab countries, have continued to gain steam and show no signs of slowing.
“This is a great success; people are marching in the streets and living in the streets for the past two weeks,” said Stav Shafir, one of the protest leaders. “Finally people are choosing to determine how they want to live. We want affordable housing, health, education and welfare.”
The weeks of popular demonstrations are becoming a headache for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with polls showing a sharp drop in his approval ratings and strong support for the protesters. Netanyahu announced a package of reforms meant to lower housing prices last week, but it did little to defuse the anger.