|Israel's Largest-Ever Demonstration Demands Social Justice|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
Jerusalem's Paris Square fills up with thousands of social protest demonstrators on Saturday night.
"You – the Israeli public who in the summer of 2011 took its own fate into its hands."
Social protest leader Dafni Leef was sixth in Haaretz's list of influential people, which last year featured NIF Israel Executive Director Rachel Liel – a fitting tribute to her originating the social protests by pitching a tent on Rothschild boulevard in Tel Aviv..
These social protestors exert such influence in Israel, according to a Haaretz survey, because they are focusing on issues in Israeli society that are problematic and need to be changed. Of the general Israeli public, 90% of people feel that these social protests will change Israel’s agenda and priorities, and 78.4% of them have strong opinions on what would provide affordable housing, namely, a lower cost of living and a different tax regime.
The Haaretz nominations came out two days after more than 450,000 Israelis took to the streets Saturday night, demanding social justice. In Tel Aviv alone, more than 290,000 demonstrators marched through the streets – the largest ever demonstration in Israel's history – to protest the high cost of living, growing social gaps and lack of affordable housing. While an estimated 50,000 people rallied in Jerusalem, and 35,000 people rallied in Haifa, smaller groups protested in many locations across the country, including Kiryat Shmona, Karmiel, Nahariya, Afula, and Ness Ziona.
Throughout the protests this summer, NIF and SHATIL temporarily sidelined many routine activities so we could devote resources to the campaign for social justice. Through NIF's Social Justice Activism Fund, approximately $50,000 has been granted to organizations working in the encampments of the social periphery. Examples include the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, an organization which supports Ethiopian immigrants living in encampments in Netanya, Petach Tikva and Yavne, and the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow - New Discourse, an organization which provides aid to encampments in Holon and Tel Aviv's Hatikvah quarter.
At the same time, some 30 NIF grantees, echoing the sentiments of NIF and SHATIL, poured major efforts into supporting the social protests. Organizations like flagship NIF grantee Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and Bimkom Planners for Planning Rights have been working in the Coalition for Affordable Housing, presenting recommendations to the government's Trajtenberg Committee, a committee set up to advise the government on responses to the protest. ACRI has also been providing legal advice to tent dwellers, while Jewish pluralistic grantees, like Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) for Progressive Judaism (Reform), have been organizing Shabbat activities in the encampments.
In a fiery, passionate speech in Tel Aviv's Kikar Hamedina on Saturday night, protest leader Dafni Leef vowed that this struggle would continue until victory, and reaffirmed that the demand for change has numbers on its side. "We will no longer hide in our tiny bunkers and wage our war of existence alone. That era is over,” said Leef. “From now there will be something new. From now on we are together. We demand change, and we demand to be part of that change."
Looking ahead, NIF Israel Executive Director Rachel Liel sees a need to adapt new strategies to keep the social protest movement from losing momentum. "Clearly the protest is about to enter a new phase,” said Liel. “We are beginning a process of analyzing the situation and consulting with our organizations and other experts and activists on developing the best platforms to ensure that the momentum is not lost and achievements will not just be cosmetic, but meaningful for generations to come.”