Protests across Israel against high cost of living 13 Aug 11

Israeli activists hold placards during a protest calling for social justice, including lower property prices in Israel, at the southern city of Be'er Sheva August 13, 2011.

By Ran Tzabar

(Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people gathered across Israel Saturday to call for lower living costs in an effort to show the government their protest movement has countrywide support.

The gatherings followed a rally last weekend in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, in which over 250,000 demonstrators called for economic reform. It was the biggest socio-economic protest the country of 7.7 million has ever seen.

Past demonstrations on such a scale in Israel have usually been over issues of war and peace but Saturday rallies from Haifa and Afula in the north of the country to the resort town of Eilat in the far south all focused on “social justice.”

Leading Israeli performers entertained the protesters who carried banners highlighting the soaring cost of living.

The protests have put pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week named a 14-member panel of experts led by economist Manuel Trajtenberg to deliver proposals for changes within a month.

The unrest comes despite projected economic growth of 4.8 percent this year and relatively low unemployment of 5.7 percent.

“The gaps between rich and poor have (increased) and I think right now people really feel frustrated because they are working … in very respectable jobs, but they don’t get enough to live their lives and raise their children,” Beersheba protester Daniel Eisler told Reuters.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some 50,000 had gathered at rallies across the country with the largest number, 25,000, assembling in the port city of Haifa. Organizers and media said at least 70,000 had attended.

Students set up a tent city along Tel Aviv’s leafy, affluent Rothschild Boulevard a month ago to protest the high cost of housing and others then sprouted in parks across the country.

The rightist coalition government has vowed to free up more state-owned land for development, build more low-rent housing and improve public transport.