Good in­tent of those in tents

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - Rachel Liel

Ain Is­rael lives be­low the poverty line — twice the av­er­age of West­ern coun­tries. The groups with the high­est per­cent­age liv­ing be­low the poverty line are the ul­tra-Ortho­dox (57 per cent) and the Arab pop­u­la­tion (54 per cent). Work­ing fam­i­lies make up half of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion liv­ing be­low the poverty line. The move­ment that spon­ta­neously started in the tents on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boule­vard has been led by a younger gen­er­a­tion. Stu­dents and oth­ers from main­stream so­ci­ety — many not pre­vi­ously po­lit­i­cally ac­tive and who have wrongly been ac­cused of be­ing self­ish — have taken con­trol. This is a gen­er­a­tion that cares about the fu­ture of Is­rael. At­tempts have been made to dis­credit the protests and the protest lead­ers, sug­gest­ing they are be­ing ma­nip­u­lated or have a hid­den agenda. This is not only wrong but a shame — the pro­test­ers are ad­dress­ing real con­cerns and dif­fi­cul­ties shared by mil­lions of Is­raelis. The so­cial safety net is dis­ap­pear­ing. For­tu­nately, the vast ma­jor­ity of Is­raelis have seen through these at­tempts and recog­nise that the pro­test­ers’ de­mands are gen­uine and in the na­tional in­ter­est.

This ex­plains the grow­ing lev­els of sup­port for the demon­stra­tions and why the stu­dents and young pro­fes­sion­als of Tel Aviv have been joined by pen­sion­ers con­cerned about health-care and other costs; par­ents of young chil­dren con­cerned about ed­u­ca­tion and the costs of child-care; and com­mu­ni­ties from Is­rael’s pe­riph­ery high­light­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties they face. A Haaretz poll found that 87 per cent of Is­raelis sup­port the protests.

If you are in Is­rael over the sum­mer it is worth vis­it­ing a protest site, not only on Rothschild Boule­vard but as far afield as Kiryat Sh­mona and Beer­sheba. This will give you a feel of the di­ver­sity and the pas­sion. For me, to hear my fel­low cit­i­zens come to­gether un­der slo­gans like “the peo­ple de­mand so­cial jus­tice” and “life with dig­nity” is in­spir­ing.

Of course, the New Is­rael Fund and the or­gan­i­sa­tions in Is­rael we sup­port have been work­ing on is­sues of so­cial jus­tice for decades. We have put the topic and even the phrase “affordable hous­ing” on the agenda. In 2009, we helped set up the Coali­tion for Affordable Hous­ing to find so­lu­tions for the grow­ing hous­ing cri­sis. Our work has also helped marginalised and low­in­come com­mu­ni­ties in all sec­tions of so­ci­ety, not only on hous­ing is­sues but ed­u­ca­tion, ac­cess to med­i­cal ser­vices, em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment.

None of us knows for sure what this grass­roots mo­ment will achieve but those an­tic­i­pat­ing (or hop­ing) that the protests will just fiz­zle out are re­peat­edly be­ing proven wrong. I am not sur­prised by the strength of this move­ment. It is the cul­mi­na­tion of a se­ries of pop­u­lar so­cial protests that be­gan this year over the price of petrol, cheese and the gov­ern­ment’s take on Is­rael’s newly dis­cov­ered gas fields.

The con­cerns high­lighted over the past few weeks are real and must be ad­dressed for the fu­ture health of Is­rael. The de­sire of the hun­dreds of thou­sands join­ing these protests to en­sure this change should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. I am proud of my fel­low Is­raelis’ com­mit­ment to this cause.

Rachel Liel is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NIF Is­rael

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