Israel Experiences Biggest Protest Ever

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Estimates of the total number of demonstrators who took to the streets Saturday night varied, but either way it was the largest social protest in Israel's history.

Everyone from young mothers to doctors to senior citizens thronged the streets to protest ever-increasing housing costs, rising food and fuel prices, and unaffordable child care costs. 

Israelis also pay a 16 percent value added tax (VAT) on most consumer goods, including groceries.

Israeli media -- both print and television -- estimated the Tel Aviv crowd at 250,000, while the Prime Minister's Office and the police put the figure at 150,000. About 30,000 demonstrators turned out in Jerusalem. 

At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the protests by establishing a 15-member ministerial committee to tackle the issues. 

"There is great potential for a change for the better in Israeli society," Netanyahu said, change that would "translate the whispers of the protest into the language of action."

Committee members include Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, and Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov.

Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livat and Minister of Government Services Michael Eitan will serve as observers on the committee.
 
Netanyahu said it's time for the government to address "the fact that a normal economic existence appears far away for working families."

"We want to give genuine solutions…in a thorough -- not cosmetic -- way…a change that will ease the economic burden on Israelis," he told cabinet ministers. Click here to read Netanyahu's remarks in full.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) slammed Netanyahu for "stubbornly trying to prove that he could care less about the protest," the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

In an interview with The Atlantic, published over the weekend, Livni praised President Barack Obama for pressuring Netanyahu, saying "Bibi made some steps forward [in the peace process]" when Obama pushed him.

Livni also said Netanyahu's response to Obama in the Oval Office in May put American Jews in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between the two. "…they don't want to be in this situation," Livni said  To read the full interview, click here.

Committee Chair

Netanyahu choose Prof. Manuel Trachtenberg, former chairman of the National Economic Council -- who served as his economic advisor, to head the committee. Trachtenberg said the goal is to foster real reform in the housing market and the cost of living in general.

Trachtenberg supports a reduction in "indirect taxes" on consumer goods as one way to lower costs. He would also like to see reduced fuel, water and electricity rates for low-income families. And he believes reduced fuel taxes that reflect lower global oil prices would stabilize Israel's rate of inflation.

In one month, the committee will present its findings to the Social Economic Cabinet, chaired by Steinitz, who will submit his recommendations to Netanyahu and the government for approval.

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Tzippe Barrow

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From her perch high atop the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, Tzippe Barrow helps provide a bird’s eye view of events unfolding in her country.

She and her husband made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) several years ago. Barrow hopes that providing a biblical perspective of today’s events in Israel will help people in the nations to better understand the centrality of this state and the Jewish people to God’s unfolding plan of redemption for all mankind.