“The People Demand Social Justice!”
This is an excerpt of an article written by Corinne Steinbrenner for COMtalk, the alumni magazine of the College of Communication.
Protesters wave signs and pitch tents in city squares in hopes of drawing attention to corruption, the ever-rising cost of living and the widening gap between rich and poor. While this may sound like America’s recent Occupy movement, these tent-filled parks were actually in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, and the complaints were aimed not at bankers on Wall Street but at politicians in the Israeli Knesset.
In July 2011—two months before the first Occupy Wall Street encampment appeared in Manhattan—a group of young Israelis coordinated their efforts via Facebook and then set up tents along Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard to protest the high cost of Israeli housing. Similar tent cities soon sprang up across the country, and in early August an estimated 300,000 Israelis (out of a population of 7.5 million) took to the streets of their cities in a mass demonstration against rising costs and shrinking social services. Their rallying cry: “The people demand social justice.”
“It was fantastic, fantastic news,” says Melanie Takefman (’07). “All the things I’d been working on for so long that no one wanted to listen to—finally people had woken up and realized there was a major problem.”
A longtime activist for social causes, Takefman worked from 2007 to late 2010 at Israel’s oldest and largest human rights organization, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The association advocates for social justice issues such as freedom of expression, access to housing and health care, and the rights of women, migrant workers and Arab citizens of Israel. Takefman compares ACRI to the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s a very good organization; it’s very respected,” she says, adding with a laugh that “everyone hates ACRI, so that means they’re doing a good job.” Takefman filled many roles at ACRI, including heading up its outreach to the international media, trying to attract foreign journalists to a variety of human rights issues within Israel.