Hundreds of thousands of Israeli demonstrate for social justice

More than 400,000 Israelis demonstrated in cities across the country under the banner of social justice in what some say was the largest protest in Israel’s history.

A crowd estimated at 300,000 showed up in Tel Aviv Saturday night for what organizers had billed as a nationwide “March of the Million.”

Israeli media reports variously put the number of protesters who gathered in Jerusalem at between 40,000 and 60,000. Tens of thousands more turned out in Haifa, and sizable demonstrations were also held in more than a dozen other Israeli cities, from Eilat in the south to Kiryat Shmona in the north.

“Mr. Prime Minister, take a good look at us: We’re the new Israelis. We want only one thing: To live in this country. We want not only to love the State of Israel, but also to exist here respectfully, and to live with dignity,” Itzik Shmueli, chairman of Israel’s National Student Union, said in his address to the main rally in Tel Aviv’s Hamedina Square, according to The Jerusalem Post.

“My generation always felt as though we were alone in this world, but now we feel the solidarity,” one of the protest movement’s young leaders, Daphni Leef, told the crowd, according to Haaretz. Leef’s decision this summer to pitch a tent in central Tel Aviv to protest the high cost of housing kicked off what has become a mass movement calling for change on a wide variety of issues.

While the demonstrations’ organizers have tried to keep politicians and political parties at a distance, Saturday’s ralies were embraced by a variety of Israeli politicians who are critical of the current government. Tzipi Livni, leader of the centrist Kadima Party, urged Israelis to attend the protests on her Facebook page.