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Inside Story
What is driving Israeli dissent?
We ask if the state will review its budget priorities to meet protest demands for social justice and economic equality.
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2012 08:35

Thousands of people have gathered in Tel Aviv after an Israeli protester set himself on fire during a rally on Saturday night over what he described as the injustices of the state.
 
Moshe Silman poured flammable liquid over his body and set himself alight. The suicide attempt by Silman, who remains in hospital in critical condition, has mobilised Israel's social movement.

"It seems that the government is not able to paralyse the Israeli public by brainwashing them with fear. There is a paradox, on one hand we keep saying how strong we are and on the other hand we say that we are the victim and that we are living under existential threat."

- Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist for Haaretz newspaper

Protesters holding signs that read "social justice for everybody" and "stop exploiting us", expressed concern about the future and the need to take immediate action to resolve what they saw as long-standing social problems within their society.

They were marking a year since a wave of economic protests against the high cost of living, low wages and other social issues swept the country.

The movement had prompted the Israeli government to set up a committee to provide solutions, but little change has been felt on the ground.

A protest leader said little has changed since hundreds of thousands marched last year and protest camps sprouted up in city centres around Israel.

The weekend protest however has renewed debate over the Israeli government's budgetary priorities.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Israel spends 16.4 per cent of its budget on defence, compared to an OECD average of 3.8 per cent.

About 12.4 per cent goes to healthcare, slightly less than the average of 14.7 per cent.

"Israel provides very decent to most of the Israeli citizens. I agree we have a lot of things to improve on … but there is no connection between the protests last year, and even two nights ago, with the occupation, investment or security."

- Yoaz Hendel, the former director of public diplomacy at the Office of the Israeli PM

But Israel spends more on education than the average OECD country, with 16.7 per cent compared to 13.1 per cent.

Israel has a population of more than seven million comprising of a number of ethnic groups. Almost 77 per cent are Jewish, with 67 per cent of those born in Israel, 23 per cent born in Europe and the US, almost six per cent born in Africa and four per cent born in Asia.

An estimated 23 per cent of Israelis are non-Jewish, mostly of Palestinian origin.

Inside Story asks: How deep is the socio-economic divide in Israeli society? And what are the factors driving it? Should the Israeli government review its priorities?

Joining presenter Ghida Fakhry for the discussion are guests: Yoaz Hendel, a political columnist and the former director of public diplomacy at the Office of the Israeli Prime Minister; Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist for Haaretz newspaper; and Haggai Matar, a journalist at +972, an online magazine covering Israel and the Occupied Territories.

"The occupation is costing us a lot in military budgets, in lives and in being occupiers but it is nothing compared to the price the people under occupation are paying … [but] Israel also profits from the occupation, the hi-tech industry, the weapons industry, free land ..."

Haggai Matar, a journalist at +972 online magazine


KEY FACTORS BEHIND ISRAELI PROTESTS:

  • Israelis want cheaper housing and a lower cost of living
  • About seven per cent of Jewish university graduates are unemployed, and an estimated 13 per cent of Palestinian Israelis are jobless
  • Israel spends more on defence, citing external threats, than on key social services
  • Dissent over social injustices began last year but most of the demands have not been met

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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