Strike ramps up Israel protest pressure
Updated: 2011-08-02 07:54
A demonstrator argues with a police officer in Tel Aviv on Sunday during a protest against rising housing prices. Jack Guez / Agence France-Presse
Municipal staff back growing movement on cost of living
JERUSALEM - Israeli workers across the Jewish state took part in a one-day strike on Monday, throwing their weight behind an economic protest movement that has spread across the country and rattled the government.
Shlomo Buhbut, president of the Local Authorities Union, said that the strike would shut down most municipal services across the country.
"We have called for a one-day strike. The municipalities are closed to the public and rubbish collectors will not be emptying rubbish bins," he said.
"As representatives of the municipalities and the local authorities, we represent the whole population so we cannot stand by with our arms crossed doing nothing while the entire population is demonstrating for social justice," he added.
"If the government does nothing, we don't rule out the possibility of taking additional measures."
The strike, which has also racked up support from some 20,000 people on a Facebook page set up to promote the action, is the latest sign of growing frustration in Israel with the high cost of living and income disparity.
It comes after an estimated 100,000 Israelis took to the streets in cities across the country on Saturday night to call for economic reforms in some of the biggest protests ever seen in the Jewish state.
The burgeoning movement, which is calling for reductions in the cost of everything from cheese to petrol, appears to have caught the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu off guard.
He has pledged to take measures to address protesters' concerns, but warned on Sunday that "hasty" actions could plunge Israel into debt and a "European-style" economic crisis.
But the demonstrators, who began their protest in mid-July, setting up a tent city in one of Tel Aviv's trendiest neighborhoods to illustrate their difficulty finding housing, have so far been unmoved by the government's response.
On Sunday, protest organizer Daphni Leef rejected as "manipulative" an announcement by Netanyahu that he would set up a ministerial committee to meet protesters and draw up a plan of action.
And on Monday, protest representative Orly Weissenberg told military radio that the demonstrators wanted public talks with the prime minister.
"We must change methods and conduct negotiations that are fully transparent and not held in secret in offices as has usually been the case until now," she said.
"We don't want to negotiate with ministers, we want to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu because he is the only one who has the power to take serious decisions," she added.
(China Daily 08/02/2011 page11)