Half Million March in Israel

  September 6, 2011

Half Million March in Israel

Israelis skeptic of gov't- appointed committee to look into protest demands, organize biggest protest in country's history
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Israelis talk about gov't appointed committee meant to deal with the demands of the mass social protest movement that started on July 14 and organized the biggest marches in the country's history ==== Israel's "March of the Million" brought out more people than any other protest in Israel's history. Meanwhile the government has decided to keep quiet, only appointing Professor Manuel Trachtenberg to head a committee to look into the demands of the J14 movement. Started on July 14, this march was the sixth in a row, and while many on the street have different ideas about how to move ahead, most have little faith in the Trachtenberg committee. The Real News' Lia Tarachansky reports from Tel Aviv and talks to protesters about how to move forward.


Half Million March in IsraelLIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: On Saturday night nearly 500,000 demonstrators marched in Israel's largest demonstration to date.

CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): People demanding social justice.

TARACHANSKY: Per capita, this number is more than five times bigger than the number of demonstrators in Tahrir Square during Egypt's uprising. Two of the movement's lead organizers spoke at the rally. Itzik Shmuli is the head of the student union at the Tel Aviv University.

ITZIK SHMULI (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Our Israel demands a change in the set of priorities of its governments. This square is full of the new Israelis, who'd be even willing to die for this country, but who demand from you, Mr. Prime Minister, to let us live in this country!

TARACHANSKY: Daphne Lief was the first to set up a tent on July 14, sparking the movement in the tent cities that sprung up throughout the country.

DAPHNE LIEF: This summer we woke up and refused to keep going on, with our eyes closed, towards the abyss.

TARACHANSKY: For more than a week, graffiti and posters popped up throughout the country calling on Israelis to join the protest. The same day, an op-ed in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth by Stav Shaffir, who's one of the main organizers, called for the government to recognize the demands: "This circle will keep growing until it breaks through our government's walls and it starts to comply with our demands. We demand to see our government members losing sleep and losing weight as a result of the burden of responsibility on their shoulders." Until now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has mostly kept quiet. He appointed, however, a committee headed by Professor Manuel Trajtenberg to deal with with the demands. Trajtenberg, of the Tel Aviv University, is the former head of the Economic Policy Board under the former prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): They take from the poor and give to the rich. What a corrupt government!

DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): [This committee] was created by the people because of whom there's a protest here, because of their policies. Many of the people in this committee, including Trajtenberg, took part in processes that brought people to the street today.

DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): He is Bibi's man. He was sent by Bibi so Bibi can keep his hands clean without doing anything.

DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Unfortunately, I have doubts regarding Professor Trajtenberg's abilities, though he's a great and wise person, to really change things, unless the government takes what's happening here on the streets seriously and understand their responsibilities.

TARACHANSKY: Much of the pessimism around the committee's ability to cause real change stems from Trajtenberg's previous work. In 2007, he authored a report commissioned by the former prime minister, where he emphasized the need to minimize the gap between the rich and the poor. In an article in ... outlined that the report relied heavily on what they call neoliberal thinking, meaning that it emphasized investing in the top industries with the hope that prosperity would trickle down. Regardless, they say, none of the suggestions were implemented by the government. But not everyone is as doubtful.

DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I think people aren't really giving Trajtenberg a chance. I think ... I've seen many signs here against the committee all together. I'd rather give it more of a chance, to listen, to see what's possible, and then, after decisions are made, go and criticize.


TRNN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What in your opinion needs to happen now?

DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This protest has to continue until the government resigns and we have new elections.


DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): For the next stage, politics has to be part of it. Organization, political parties, people with similar thinking need to come together with some political background and start moving things.

DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The very fact that it was brought forward before the public eye is already a success. The fact that they're thinking twice before reducing any social sector is already a success. It didn't exist before. The very fact that the government froze the rise in fuel prices to avoid an outcry is already a success. I believe it's a process. This nation needs to get used to protesting. We're not used to this. We have to understand this is the beginning of something.


UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I am 25. What are my main memories from this country? The Second Lebanon War, the period of suicide bombings, friends who died then, the murder of Rabin, Gilad Shalit. I'm the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. That was my consciousness, moments and memories full of death. At the protest in Afula I saw a sign: "I'm proud to be an Israeli 31 days". I stand before you, proud to be an Israeli for seven weeks now.

TARACHANSKY: Protest organizers are now rethinking how to move forward while waiting for the conclusions of the Trajtenberg Committee, promised to be released by the end of the month. For The Real News, I'm Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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