Bibi digs in as protest grows

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY ANSHEL PF­EF­FER

THE LEAD­ERS of the so­cial protest move­ment in Is­rael and Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu this week en­trenched them­selves in their op­pos­ing po­si­tions.

Mr Ne­tanyahu es­tab­lished on Mon­day a com­mit­tee of ex­perts to talk to the pro­test­ers, who last week pub­lished a de­tailed list of eco­nomic and so­cial de­mands. The pro­test­ers re­sponded by an­nounc­ing their own team of ne­go­tia­tors.

The gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­tee, headed by chair­man of the uni­ver­si­ties plan­ning and bud­getary board Pro­fes­sor Manuel Tracht­en­berg, and con­sist­ing of es­tab­lish­ment eco­nomic and so­cial af­fairs ad­vis­ers, is sup­posed to start meet­ing the lead­ers of the protest move­ment in the next few days. It will also name the gov­ern­ment’s “So­cial-Eco­nomic Cabi­net”, a com­mit­tee of 12 min­is­ters, in a month.

The pro­test­ers ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of “drag­ging its feet” and try­ing to “suf­fo­cate the protest”, and formed their own team of ex­perts — aca­demics with a so­cial-demo­cratic agenda — who met them in Tel Aviv.

Stav Shafir, one of the lead­ers of the protest, said that they were not try­ing to top­ple the gov­ern­ment but “there is an is­sue here of dis­trust. We have been on the street for al­most a month and the gov­ern­ment still hasn’t treated us with any se­ri­ous­ness. The team they set up is not se­ri­ous, it is just an­other at­tempt to drag things out.”

While se­nior Likud mem­bers and min­is­ters have tried in re­cent weeks to dis­miss the protests as “spoilt and greedy”, other lead­ing politi­cians of the gov­ern­ing party have taken heed of the un­der-cur­rent within Likud, ex­press­ing concern that the on­go­ing wave of mid­dle-class dis­con­tent could cost them the next elec­tions.

On Tues­day, Trans­port Min­is­ter Yis­rael Katz vis­ited the pro­test­ers in TelA­viv, say­ing that “the protest is real”, and promis­ing that the gov­ern­ment was lis­ten­ing to their de­mands and work­ing to change its eco­nomic and so­cial poli­cies.

This week, new sec­tors joined the protest, with a group of set­tlers hail­ing from the il­le­gal out­posts in the West Bank set­ting up their own tents at the main protest site on Rothschild Boule­vard in Tel Aviv and caus­ing some of the mainly left-wing pro­test­ers to try to evict them. Hun­dreds of pen­sion­ers marched in Tel Aviv on Mon­day, iden­ti­fy­ing with the younger gen­er­a­tion’s protest and call­ing upon Mr Ne­tanyahu to pre­vent cuts to their ben­e­fits.

Mean­while, the Knes­set is to meet next week on Tues­day for an emer­gency session on the so­cial protests, fol­low­ing a de­mand signed by 50 op­po­si­tion Knes­set mem­bers.

Main op­po­si­tion party Kadima, which led the de­mand, is­sued a state­ment say­ing that “the gov­ern­ment is headed by a man who ig­nores pub­lic protests and mocks its mo­tives, deny­ing the out­cry. Ne­tanyahu is di­rectly re­spon­si­ble over the past two years for the heavy load of taxes on wa­ter, elec­tric­ity, coun­cil rates, pub­lic trans­port and food prod­ucts. He in­sisted on the Knes­set go­ing out to re­cess and tried to stran­gle the pub­lic de­bate.”


The protest at the cen­tre of Tel Aviv last Satur­day: an es­ti­mated quar­ter of a mil­lion took to the streets

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