Arab Spring Arrives Late in Israel
“We know that we cannot achieve everything,” Itzik Shmuly, the chairman of the National Union of Students, acknowledged from the podium in Tel Aviv. “But living here has become impossible, and we will not accept it.”
The wave of protests has been largely driven by Israel’s working middle classes, who are afflicted by rising costs of basics like housing, food and gasoline, and by high taxation. At the same time, the country’s social services have been shrinking and there is a growing gap between the rich and poor.
In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem young people, retired couples and families marched.
Ayelet Kol, a 37-year-old graphic designer in Tel Aviv, said she has been fighting a losing battle to get by financially even though she downsized into a one-room studio apartment, canceled her gym membership and cable subscription and has entirely cut out meeting friends at restaurants.
“Until now most people thought it was their fault that they could not get by,” she said, “but now they are realizing it’s hard for everyone and that they are not alone.”
About a quarter of a million people, more than three percent of the Israeli Jewish population, poured into the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest the cost of living, one of which symptoms is an increasing wealth disparity between rich and poor.
My question is whether the working poor and the vanishing middle class in the United States feel similarly and, if so, what we can learn about the ongoing activism in the Middle East.