JERUSALEM — More than a quarter of a million Israelis poured into the streets of cities across Israel on Saturday to protest rising living costs and social inequalities in a snowballing movement that has posed a serious challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The demonstration was one of the largest in Israel’s history and its biggest ever on social and economic issues. What began three weeks ago as a tent encampment in Tel Aviv to protest rising housing prices has mushroomed into a broader social protest wave demanding redistribution of the country’s resources.
Police said that more than 200,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv and an additional 30,000 in Jerusalem, with several thousands more in 20 other cities and towns. The numbers, which organizers put at more than 300,000 across the country, were significantly higher than nationwide demonstrations last week and showed that the protest movement is gathering momentum.
Throngs marched through the streets chanting “The people demand social justice!” Demonstrators held up signs that said, “People before profits,” and “Return the state to the people.” Banners demanded a “Welfare state now,” and some shouted, “Revolution!”
The demonstrations are driven by discontent among middle-class Israelis who complain that rising costs of housing, food, fuel, education and child care are outstripping their salaries. There is also criticism of widening gaps between rich and poor and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.
Speakers at the protest rallies urged a renewal of the state’s social contract with the people.
Daphni Leef, who began the housing protest by pitching a tent and inviting others to join her, said in Tel Aviv that the movement was driven by “a spirit of equality, sharing and a just distribution of resources,” which “cannot be tamed.”
Organizers in Jerusalem listed demands that included affordable housing, free education, economic rights for women and lifting the tax burden on ordinary Israelis. “We are all brothers,” one speaker said. “We are all responsible for one another. Without solidarity there is no state.”