Israelis Protest Austerity Harshness
by Stephen Lendman
On May 11, thousands of Israelis protested publicly. They did so for social justice. More on that below.
In summer 2011, widespread social justice protests erupted. They continued for weeks. Others followed in summer 2012.
Several Israelis protested by self-immolation. Moshe Silman’s remembered best. He died for justice denied. During a July 14, 2012 protest, he poured gasoline over his body. He set himself ablaze. He left a letter saying:
“”The state of Israel stole from me and robbed me. It left me helpless.”
“Two Housing and Construction Ministry committees rejected me, even though I had a stroke.”
“I can’t even live month to month. I won’t be homeless, and so I am protesting.”
He blamed Netanyahu’s government for “taking from the poor and giving to the rich.”
It’s true. Corporate Israel and privileged elites are enriched at the expense of most others. Neoliberal harshness is policy. Force-feeding it replicates the worst of US and EU policies. Unaddressed grievances include:
- unaffordable housing;
- high food and energy prices;
- low wages and eroding social benefits;
- onerous taxes on working households;
- education and healthcare increasingly dependent on the ability to pay;
- eroding labor rights;
- construction funding disproportionately allocated for settlement development; and
- the high cost of raising children; along with overpriced housing, it’s the most common complaint raised.
Instead of addressing these issues responsibly, Israeli officials ignore them. Dominant party leaders speak with one voice. Privilege alone matters. Most Israelis increasingly are on their own. It shows in Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) data.
On February 7, Haaretz headlined “One in three Israeli families receive welfare aid, statistics show.”
It represents a 20% increase since 2009. According to CBS data and Social Affairs Ministry reports, “(t)he economic situation of families in Israeli is declining rapidlyâ€¦.”
In 2011, Israel had “1.83 million families.” About “520,000” sought help. In 2009, it was 435,500. In 1998, it was 298,000. Unaddressed grievances listed above explain why.
Yair Lapid is Israel’s new finance minister. His new budget reflects neoliberal harshness. He’s robbing poor Peter to benefit rich Paul. He’s targeting Israel’s middle class and lower classes.
His VAT increase alone reflects it. He wants ordinary Israelis to pay more for what they buy. Most goods and services already cost too much. He’s making them less affordable.
He’s beholden to monied interests. He’s giving corporate Israel and rich elites a free ride. Companies like Teva will pay minimal taxes at most. He’s widening the gap between rich and poor.
He’s only been in office six weeks. It didn’t take long to reveal his true agenda. Unfairness defines it. Netanyahu supports it. He’s waging financial war on ordinary Israelis. He’s mindless of how much harm it causes.
On May 11, Haaretz headlined “Thousands of Israelis take to the streets to protest austerity measures.”
In Tel Aviv, protesters marched “against Finance Minister Yair Lapid” austerity budget.
Rallies took place in other cities. Unlike summer 2011 and 2012, no speeches or performances were planned.
“Among the activists were many of the leaders of the 2011 social protest, as well as Knesset members and members of left-wing organizations.”
“The signs wielded by the marchers cast blame on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid.”
MK Itzik Shumli marched alongside the Labor Party’s Young Guard.
“Lapid’s financial plan will severely hurt the working man and will trample the weak sectors,” he said.
“To block it, we will wage a persistent battle on the streets and in the halls of the Knesset.”
“Israelis don’t expect their finance minister to be a socialist, but they don’t expect him to be a populist, either. (They expect him) only to fulfill the promises he has been making up until last week.”
Tel Aviv protesters held signs saying “Where’s the money?” “The tycoons have it, stupid.” “Let the corporations pay for the budget deficit.” “We’re all in the opposition,” people shouted. An event Facebook page said:
“Instead of a murderous budget that raises the VAT and income tax – which takes from the workers, from the self-employed, from the housewives and the elderly – the people demand that the flow of gifts to tycoons be stopped, that our natural resources be returned to us, and that money not be wasted on isolated settlements.”
“The money must be funneled to the children and elderly, to our welfare and housing in Israel.”
Protestors must sustain committed activism to have any chance for change. They’ll have to stay the course longterm.
Occasional protests achieve nothing. They failed in 2011 and 2012. They’ll fare no better now.
One demonstration gathered in front of Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom’s Ramat Gan home. Afterwards they blocked Ayalon Highway. It’s central Israel’s major intercity highway.
Other protests occurred in Jerusalem, Haifa, Modiin, Rishon Lezion and Ashdod. January elections were called the biggest lie in Israel’s history. Coalition partners reflect its most extremist government ever. It combines fascist and neoliberal harshness.
Lapid’s budget reflects where he stands. He’s beholden to monied interests. He’s throwing most Israelis under the bus.
He proposed minimal defense cuts. He knows Washington will supply whatever Israel needs. He’s raising the 17% VAT tax to 18%. He proposed other tax increases affecting ordinary Israelis most. He targeted child welfare benefits. He has other neoliberal measures in mind.
Since early April, smaller demonstrations gathered outside his north Tel Aviv home. They preceded thousands rallying on May 11. At issue is whether street activism has legs enough to matter.
Social justice is hard enough to win. It won’t come easily or quickly. Struggles worth waging are longterm. Years of commitment are needed.
A same day Haaretz article headlined “Lapid’s budget: Israel’s poor stay poor, while its rich get rich.”
“That’s how it goes, everybody knows; especially Finance Minister Yair Lapid, whose proposed state budget not only turns on his core middle-class constituency, it is also terrible in terms of economic analysis.”
He took care of his friends, advisors and core supporters. They’re well off in Israel’s top tenth percentile. He made most other Israelis pay the price.
His campaign pledges were broken. His agenda threatens to undermine economic growth. He’s mindless of popular needs. It’s up to mass activism to inform him.
Occasional protests don’t work. Anything worth struggling for requires staying the course longterm. Change won’t come any other way.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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