08/04/2011, 00.00
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Protests over cost of living hit taxis, schools and housing

by Joshua Lapide
Thousands of parents, teachers and students march against the rising cost of education. Taxi drivers block roads over higher fuel prices. In many cities, people set up tent cities to protest against the high cost of living. Born from egalitarian and socialist dreams, Israel now has one of the widest gaps between haves and have-nots.
Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest against the Netanyahu government over the rising cost of living, which is pushing up the price of housing, food, clothing and education. This morning, taxi drivers joined the protest by blocking downtown Tel Aviv because of rising cost of diesel fuel. In various cities, protesters set up tents to protest high housing costs.

Hundreds of cabbies parked their cars at the intersection of Kaplan and Menachem Begin streets today, one of Tel Avis’s busiest junctions. After blocking the road for several minutes, they proceeded to drive slowly toward northern Tel Aviv where they held a rally.

At around 5.30 pm, parents also took to the streets in a number of locations throughout Israel. They held "stroller marches" against the high cost of raising children.

Similarly, teachers protested against cutbacks by the Education Ministry, which effectively reduced their wages and increased costs for parents. High school and college students, as well scouts, held a sit-in in front of the Education Ministry.

Marches took place in Tel Aviv, Ariel and Herzliya, but hundreds of demonstrators also blocked intersections in other cities across the country, ranging from the southern desert city of Beersheba to Kiryat Shmona in the far north.

All the protesters accuse the Netanyahu government of neglecting the needs of the population whilst the ranks of the poor swell and a few families get super rich.

The wave of protest, dubbed by some with a certain sense of humour, Israel’s ‘Tahrir Square’, began some weeks ago when Daphne Leef and about 20 friends set up a tent encampment in central Tel Aviv near the Rothschild Boulevard to criticise the high cost of housing.

According to an Israeli observer, Noah Efron, housing prices in the city jumped by 65 per cent in the past five years, crowding out lower-middle class families from the real estate market.

Many people have had to take two or three jobs to afford a mortgage, without the certainty that they will be able to pay it off.

Quickly from Tel Avivi, tents protests spread to other towns and cities, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people.

As the movement grew, so did the demands, going from housing to the cost of living, education, health care and wages.

The protest is even more poignant considering Israel’s history and its founding egalitarian and socialist dreams. In fact, over the past 25 years, the income gap between rich and poor has gone from being among the lowest in developed nations to in the fifth highest among the 34 OECD nations. Now, one in four Israelis and one in three kids live below the poverty line.

For many, this comes as no surprise since both leftwing (labour) and rightwing (likud) governments have reduced the size of the state through privatisations. Schools, hospitals, universities and social services have been the most affected.

The situation is such that a 90m2 flat can cost US$ 2-3,000 a month, way above what most Israelis can afford.

Families are spending up to US$ 100 a month to pay for their children’s school services, which were once free.

Some surveys show that if the ‘tent’ movement were a political party, it would take 20 seats at the next parliamentary elections.

Recently, the country’s trade unions have been moving in the direction of the protesters.

Critics have labelled them “too leftwing”, afraid that their demands might join similar claims pushed by Palestinians.

Protesters’ spokespeople have rejected the criticism, saying that their protest is not politically related to the Israeli-Palestinian question.

For his part, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avidgor Liebermann has described the demonstrations as the work of “spoiled brats” who do not know how rich they are.
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