SHATIL & Israel’s new awakening
In July 2011, 25-year-old Israeli video editor Daphne Leef had to find new housing in Tel Aviv. Quickly realizing that pricing had risen exorbitantly and she was locked out of the market, she opened a Facebook protest page, inviting others to join her protest, and pitched a tent in Habima Square in Tel Aviv. In response, protesters gathered in the streets around Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, as well as in Zion Square in Jerusalem. Quickly, through the use of social media and word of mouth the protests spread, with organizations and individuals joining the protests from all over the country.
These developments followed upon the heals of an earlier, successful protest against the high price of cottage cheese, an Israeli staple. This time Israelis, from diverse geographical and societal communities were protesting the high cost of housing, food, and other basic living expenses as well as widening social gaps, reduced government welfare allocations, and a general lack of opportunity. On July 30th about 150,000 people took part in mass rallies in major cities across Israel, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba, Kfar Saba, Ra’anana, Baqa al Gharbiya, Ashdod, Nazareth, Kiryat Shmona, Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut, Kfar Saba, Netanya, Ashkelon, and Tiberias. This was followed by even larger demonstrations a week later, on August 6th, with 350,000 people protesting in cities all across Israel. In response to the protests the Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a committee to pinpoint and propose solutions to Israel’s socioeconomic problems, to be headed by Professor Manuel Trajtenberg. On September 3rd the largest social justice demonstration ever took place amounting to over 450,000 people, with over 300,000 marching in Tel Aviv, 70,000 in Jerusalem and the rest in other cities across Israel.
Throughout this exhilarating period SHATIL staff members have been working in tent camps throughout the country, from Naharia in the north to Ashdod in the South: listening, giving advice, and facilitating training sessions designed to meet specific needs raised by the protesters. We are networking and helping to form partnerships between the emerging activists and those in Israel’s social change-movement who have long been working for affordable housing, health and education rights and for re-establishing the state’s responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. We are involved in the process of bringing together representatives of all the tent encampments for joint decision making. After surveying protesters’ needs, we made available contact information of campaign, fundraising, media and advocacy specialists from SHATIL and other social-change groups. A focus of our activities has been to connect additional constituents to the current efforts – particularly in underserved immigrant communities. We are likewise invested in connecting protestors with social economists and helping to shape a shared agenda.
From the Streets to the Knesset
On the heels of the remarkable social protests that engulfed the country last summer, Shatil is partnering with many of the country’s leading social-change organizations in a comprehensive social advocacy initiative in the Knesset accompanied by a media blitz aimed at flooding the airwaves and the public discourse with debate around pressing social issues.
The emerging discourse builds on the widespread demands for solidarity and social justice that came to the forefront this past summer. Shatil is coordinating with the main opposition (and more centrist Coalition parties) the submission of a range of legislative bills on a specific issue each week along with an array of other measures ensuring that the most pressing social issues remain on the public agenda.
The initiative is taking place in an atmosphere charged with anti-democratic legislative activism and in which Knesset Members are ignoring the powerful voices of pluralism and civic participation that emerged from last summer’s massive protests.
The initiative commenced with a focus on housing. On Monday, October 31st, we facilitated the submission of an urgent parliamentary question based on materials we received from the Israeli Association for Ethiopian Jews and residents of tent encampments; the opposition submitted a motion of no-confidence; and Knesset members received a letter signed by 20 nonprofits urging them to promote social-justice related legislation and to make use of the knowledge and expertise of civil society. “With the opening of the session,” the letter states, “you are encountering a new opportunity to show the public that you are not only amenable to the will of the people, but are working to bring a real change in their lives in the realms of education, welfare, employment, environment and health.” The National Student Union followed up and sent MKs a similar letter.
The initiative continues, with intensive press coverage in all the country’s major media outlets, on television, newspapers, online and in the radio – including an in-depth interview with Shatil director of programs in a popular morning program – as well as an extensive presence in the social media. On Wednesday, November 2nd, seven bills relating to affordable housing were put to a preliminary vote in the plenum. One bill requiring banks to inform mortgage-takers of government subsidies to which they are entitled has passed. Two bills were postponed as Minister of Interior Eli Yishai requested a leeway to pass appropriate regulations in the spirit of the proposed legislation. Yishai committed to support the bills if such procedures are not enacted within two months.
For over two hours the Coalition was forced to recruit the majority of its MKs and ministers to vote against housing-related social bills. The sense of discomfort among them was palpable. Many voted against bills that they would very much want to support, exposing themselves to media coverage that conveys obliviousness to the demands of the Israeli public – demands that were all-too-evident this summer.
The initiative is continuing and will move on to focus on employment and education. Says Shimon Malka, director of Shatil’s Center for Policy Change: “We expect that some important bills will pass. We now see the return of anti-democratic legislation attempts. Our aim is to move the sentiments that we witnessed in the streets this summer to the Knesset, to get MKs to focus on what most Israelis want their elected representatives to address, that is, social justice and the promotion of legislation the improves the lives of citizens of Israel.”
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