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News analysis: Israel could see another summer of protests

05-14-2012 10:18 BJT

JERUSALEM, May 13 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Saturday evening across the country calling for "social justice" and continued economic reform.

While participation in Saturday's demonstrations was relatively small - police said 5,000 in Tel Aviv and 1,000 in Jerusalem- there are already speculations in national media that they could evolve into large scale protests as of last summer, which at its height numbered some 400,000 on a single evening.

The focus of last year's protests was the cost of living and the problem, especially for young people, of finding affordable housing, but this year's event showed a decidedly more political stance.

"Most of the parameters remain the same because I don't see a lot of changes from the point of view of the protesters. Now you can argue that it's too short in terms of time because it takes time for these processes to materialize," Prof. Shlomo Mizrahi of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev told Xinhua on Sunday.

"But, basically I would say that most people don't see the changes in the policy. People don't feel the changes in economic parameters," he said.

One important difference between the demonstrations on Saturday and last summer is that this time around, some protesters criticized the unity government formed after the main opposition party Kadima joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government last Tuesday.

The deal was struck on the night before the parliament was set to vote on a bill that would disband it and set Sept. 4 as election date. Social and economic issues were expected to be the main focus of the elections. However, after Kadima joined the government, Netanyahu is expected remain in power until the current mandate period ends in October 2013.

"Last year was the first time that people actually tried to change something in the economic sphere and they are very disappointed of the lack of success," Mizrahi said.

"So there is an additional important parameter of frustration and I would say that this would cause some of the people to back out and say 'I don't want to take part of it;' others would take it to the political field," he argued.

SLOW CHANGE

Prof. Rafi Melnick of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya agreed with Mizrahi that the "basic inequality situation has remained unchanged" since last summer's protests.

"But the protests last year had quite a large impact on different social policies that will take place during the coming years," Melnick said.

Following last year's protests, the government appointed the Trajtenberg Commission to try and find ways to address the protesters' demands, that, in addition to housing focused on the costs of food items and education.

In March, the government approved a majority of the committee's recommendations, including changes in the tax code that gives a tax credit to families with young children, as well as approving free education for children from the age of three.

A number of additional changes were approved to make housing more affordable, such as increasing the supply of new apartments and increasing the taxes on so called "ghost apartments" owned by people not living in Israel. By increasing the tax, the owners would be encouraged to rent out their apartment for time of year when they aren't living there.

"So it's a process when you talk about social issues - unless you want a revolution. But nobody wants a revolution here; change takes time," Melnick said.

However, the government has yet to deal with one of the main complaints of last summer's protests: the concentration of the Israeli economy in the hand of a small number of families.

Such groupings, as well as cartelization between the holding companies that are used by the owners to control their corporations is often cited as reason for lack of competition on the Israeli market.

Many of the conglomerates own both real estate and financial companies, allowing them, in essence, to borrow money from themselves, a practice that is banned in the United States and Europe.

FUTURE

Melnick said that the younger generation most likely would continue their protests because they want things to change, and maybe that is an important role for this generation: to continue putting pressure on the government.

"But social change is something that takes time and it's not something that happens overnight," he cautioned.

Mizrahi said that Israel could very well be in for another summer of protests, assessing "it will be different because there are a lot of lessons that were learnt, but there will be a lot of protests this summer as well."

He added that last year's protests were calm and orderly, despite the large number of people participating.

This year, however, he argues the demonstrations could become violent if protesters try to block traffic and hold demonstrations without permits, which didn't happen last year.

Editor:Wang Lingfei |Source: Xinhua

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