Israel social protesters arrested in first violence

Israeli police arrested some 40 demonstrators in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, police said, after the first violence seen during weeks of social protests that have called for lower living and housing costs.

Protesters held up traffic on a main street and broke into city hall after municipal workers dismantled some makeshift huts and tents and removed furniture from two locations where tent protests had been set up.

The grassroots movement has swollen since July from a cluster of student tent-squatters into a countrywide mobilisation of Israel’s middle class. Until Wednesday’s clash, none of the protests had been violent.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands marched for lower living costs in the largest such rally in Israel’s history, bolstering a social change movement and mounting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take on economic reform.

Social media also played a role in the Israeli protests, inspired partly by the impact of Arab Spring demonstrations and it has posed the greatest challenge yet to Netanyahu halfway into his term.

Netanyahu’s governing coalition faces no immediate threat, but the protests have underscored the potential electoral impact of a middle class rallying under a banner of social justice.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Rosalind Russell