Over 400,000 in largest protest in Israeli history

Six weeks after Israel’s largest social protest began again the high cost of living in Israel, the J14 movement held its ‘March of a Million’ protest tonight. The movement fell short of bringing a million Israelis into the streets. Yet even at 400,000, the protest will still go down as the largest ever in Israeli history.

By Shir Harel

Wrap up: Ynet’s conservative estimate of tonight’s numbers puts 300,000 in Tel Aviv, and another 100,000 elsewhere in the country. Maariv’s website NRG had the following breakdown on demonstrations outside Tel Aviv:

Haifa – 40K
Jerusalem – 60K
Kiryat Shmona – 10K
Nahariya – 7K
Rosh Pina – 5K
Kfar Yehoshua – 15K
Hadera – 2K
Afula – 17K,
Carmiel – 5K
Kiryat Motzkin – 3K
Eilat – 2K

Other cities protesting tonight included Arad, Mitzpe Ramon, Eilat, Qalansua, Hod Hasharon, and Ness Ziona.

At the end of the night, the future of the movement is unclear, as some in the leadership have called for breaking up the tent encampments while local activists insist on carrying on.

12:06 pm: Some incredible photos from the night from ActiveStills:

Kikar Hamedina - March of Million - 3.9.11 -4
Kikar Hamedina in Tel Aviv, March of Million - 3.9.11 (Photo: ActiveStills)
Over 400,000 in largest protest in Israeli history
Kikar Hamedina March of Million 3.9.11 (Photo: ActiveStills)

11:33 pm: Major Israeli TV channels, including Channel 10 and Channel 2 dropped live coverage of Dafni Leef’s speech half way through. The media’s dislike for her is overwhelming. Over the past week, Leef was repeatedly branded a “radical leftist” in the media. During an interview with Channel 10’s Economic Night host Sharon Gal, was slammed for not having served in the IDF. Later, rightist group “My Israel,” came out with claims that 6 years ago she signed onto a letter refusing to enlist in the IDF [Hebrew].

11:20 pm: J14’s founder Dafni Leef is on stage in Tel Aviv. She’s delivering a range of criticism against attempts to squash the movement. She slammed attempts to use last week’s terror attack to silence the protests, and to drive a wedge between the demonstrators and those affected by violence. Instead she spoke at length about solidarity between sectors in Israeli society, a new civic identity, and a political movement free of the right-vs-left discourse. Whether you’re an evacuee from Gush Katif (in Gaza) or a Bedouin, she said, or a child whose parents can’t afford to send him on a school trip, the situation for you, too, has to change.

11:00 pm: Here’s the tally according to various Israeli media outlets: Channel 1: 450K protesters; Channel 2: 405K; Channel 10: 460K

10:20 pm: The current estimate of protesters across Israel stands at 410,000.

10:11 pm: So far there is very little reference to the occupation and the Palestinians around the protests. Dimi Reider in Kikar Hamedina reports he has seen exactly one occupation-related sign so far, the protest is overwhelmingly Jewish in messages. Joseph Dana tweets: “Tonight’s protest in Tel Aviv will send a strong message to the world: Israelis want a new government but the occupation is not a priority. ” Nonetheless, some are trying to assert that the issue of social justice cannot be separated from “politics,” meaning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. @issaeb carries a sign that reads “It’s political.”

9:55 pm: Speeches are now starting on the stage at Kikar Hamedina. Student Union Chairman Itzik Shmuli says the protest will go on until “you, the PM, give us real solutions. We are here to stay.” He says that the students are willing to cooperate with the government in finding solutions, under the condition that the government is willing to take real action, seen in changes in legislation, and in the budget. He is not joining the message portrayed in signs around the square calling for the prime minister to step down.

9:30 pm: The march in Tel Aviv is about to begin. Here’s what Kikar Hamedina is looking like, below, courtesy of ActiveStills. Signs held by protesters in the square are spanning the full gamut: from the spectrum of social justice and welfare state slogans we’ve been seeing since the movement began, to Free Gilad Shalit calls, and notably this time many signs are calling directly for PM Netanyahu to resign. Leaders from the Student Union up on the square’s stage are singing, “the protest will not end until the Knesset wakes up.”

March of a Million - Kikar Hamedina 3.9.11
Kikar Hamedina in Tel Aviv, moments before the march begins. (Photo: ActiveStills)

9:05 pm: In Tel Aviv, Kikar Hamedina is already nearly full. Reports say one of Tel Aviv’s largest streets, Ibn Gvirol, along with Jabotinsky Street are completely packed. News reports are putting the current estimate at 102,000 protesters across the country – the number is being updated by the minute.

8:35 pm: Channel 10 news reports that 30,000 protesters have already come out into the streets across Israel. In Tel Aviv, the protest march will begin on Rothschild Blvd and make its way to Kikar Hamedina (State Square) in northern Tel Aviv, where a rally will be held. At least 16,000 demonstrators are reported to already be in Kikar Hamedina, about a half hour before the march begins at 9:30 pm.