A quarter-million Israelis marched for lower living costs on Saturday in a swelling protest that has thrust the economy onto the political agenda and put pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Here are some facts about the demonstrators and their demands.
- Origins: Organizers credit a Facebook-mobilized price boycott of cottage cheese in late June with reminding Israelis about the new power of collective action. In mid-July, a Tel Aviv woman fed up with her high rent pitched a tent on the city's well-heeled Rothschild Boulevard. Social media helped grow it into a squatter camp, with copycat protests spreading in other Israeli cities and countrywide marches taking place at weekends.
- Core: Many demonstrators come from Israel's middle class, which pays taxes while enjoying few of the welfare benefits extended to the poor. Members of the middle class also form the core of the officer corps in the conscript military and often serve long stints of annual reserve duty.
- Breadth: While directed against Netanyahu government policy, the protests have been largely apolitical, despite efforts by some fringe parties to co-opt them. Analysts attribute this to the sweeping impact of wage disparities and high consumer prices, as well as the strength of the broad governing coalition and weak appeal of its opposition.
- Demands: After weeks of hazy messaging, demonstrators issued a set of demands via the National Union of Israeli Students. These include tax cuts, more funds for housing projects for the needy, slowing down the privatization of health facilities, expanding free education to include nurseries, and phasing out personnel contractors who erode unions.
- Next step: Netanyahu plans on Sunday to name a cabinet-level team that may conduct direct negotiations with the protesters. He previously tried, without success, to stem the demonstrations with initiatives such as housing and import reforms. He has also set up a committee to recommend ways of breaking up Israeli cartels.