At least 5,000 activists rallied in Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square on Saturday in an attempt to reinvigorate last year’s social justice movement, of which the largest protest attracted nearly half a million people.
The activists gathered in the city’s central square, which sits adjacent to the Tel Aviv municipality building, with hundreds continuing to pour into the area well into the night hours.
Unlike the mass protests of summer 2011, the demonstration which took place on a temperate Tel Aviv evening on Saturday was not centrally organized and did not have a program. Organizers erected a raised platform, where different speakers made proclamations in a seemingly random order. Musicians also took to the stage, creating a festive atmosphere.
As the crowds within the courtyard swelled, activists from several social groups met to discuss issues ranging from the cost of living in Israel, to financial concentration in the upper echelons of the nation’s business community.
A group of supporters for the left-wing Meretz Party arrived flying banners bearing slogans for their faction, which angered a number of activists seeking to keep the event non-political. A number of demonstrators began calling on the Meretz group to remove their banners, with some activists forcefully removing the placards.
Among those who spoke at the event were Daphni Leef – a prominent figurehead of the 2011 social justice movement – and Itzik Shmueli, the head of the Tel Aviv University Student Union who also played a dominant role in last summer’s events.
Several demonstrations were also scheduled to take place in cities across the country on Saturday evening.
«Nearly a year has passed. They say that nothing has changed. That is a lie. The government and the tycoons are continuing to pressure and strengthen their hold. They are putting together coalitions that disconnected from the people a long time ago,» protest organizers wrote in a statement.
The statement called on people «from Eilat to Kiryat Shmona» to hit the streets and «take back the public sphere which belongs to the people.»
Additional protests were scheduled for Gan Hasus in Jerusalem, as well as Haifa, Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya, Pardes Hanna and Eilat.
Small marches from various Tel Aviv neighborhoods began on Saturday evening. The small groups of marchers planned to meet up at Rabin Square for the main rally.
Last summer, social justice protesters, demonstrating against the high cost of living and rising gaps between rich and poor, dominated the headlines for more than two months. Protesters set up several tent encampments across the country, beginning with the central Tent City on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Blvd.
Several large marches took place in Tel Aviv and in other cities across the country with an estimated 400,000 protesters hitting the streets during the «March of the Million,» seen as the climax of the movement in September 2011.
The movement led Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form the Trajtenberg Committee for social change which issued several recommendations to the government on taxation, housing and education meant to address the protesters concerns.