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'Task force' to respond to Israeli protests
Israeli Prime Minister pledges to examine economic reform a day after 150,000 discontent citizens take to the streets.
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2011 23:28

Israeli government has pledged to address the demands of a protest movement that has tapped a wellspring of public discontent about the cost of living and income disparity.

A day after nationwide protests that some newspapers said were the largest ever seen in Israel over social issues, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday pledged to establish a task force to examine economic reforms and hear the demands of the protesters.

But demonstrators quickly rejected the measures as superficial and vowed to continue their protest, with many planning to observe a one-day strike on Monday.

"This is a manipulative manoeuvre on the part of the prime minister," protest organiser Daphni Leef said on Israeli television.

"We go into the street to bring about a change in the system and he is content to set up a commission searching for way to not take responsibility."

Netanyahu said he understood the "genuine hardship" faced by many Israelis, but also warned against "hasty" measures he said could throw the country into an economic crisis.

As he met with his cabinet, thousands of doctors protested outside the parliament, raising pressure on the government to find a way to halt rising costs of everything from cheese to gasoline.

Netanyahu said he would name "a team of ministers who will set up a round-table discussion with representatives of various sectors to allow them to share their concerns."

He said the team would be charged with creating a "practical plan" to address the protesters concerns.

The protests looked likely to ramp up on Monday, when Israel's local authorities employees and thousands of other workers are expected to hold a one-day strike.

Activists were also reportedly gathering support for another protest - a mass withdrawal of cash from banks on August 8 to protest against high banking and credit card fees.

Resignation

In a possible sign of the toll the unrest could take on the government, Finance Ministry Director General Haim Shani submitted his resignation, Ynet reported on Sunday.

In a letter addressed to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Shani said his decision followed "a long-time fundamental difference of opinion and manner of daily work patterns," the website said.

"Recent events illustrate the problems I have outlined and support my view that under the current circumstances I cannot fulfil my role as finance ministry director as I see fit," it quoted him as saying.

The demonstrations are the largest over social issues seen in Israel since the early 1970s when thousands of people, led by a group called the Black Panthers, took to the streets to rally against racial discrimination suffered by Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern descent.

The upheaval began earlier this summer as Israelis launched a successful boycott of their much-loved cottage cheese in response to the rising cost of the local staple.

Then in mid-July, a small group of mostly young protesters began setting up a tent city in the middle of Tel Aviv to illustrate their inability to afford housing in the coastal city.

Their action quickly gathered steam, with similar tent camps popping up in other cities and different sectors of society emerging to share their economic discontent.

They argue that Israel's positive economic growth has not trickled down and that even low unemployment levels mask a cost of living that is too high for most Israelis.

Source:
Al Jazeera and Agencies
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