JERUSALEM– Israeli media on Sunday hailed huge protests against the high cost of living, and warned that the new movement posed a serious challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
The country’s newspapers splashed their front pages with photographs of the estimated 100,000 people who turned out across Israel on Saturday night to demonstrate in favor of broad economic reforms.
And commentators welcomed the new “social justice” movement, urging Netanyahu’s government to take it seriously.
“The people have expressed themselves,” wrote commentator Ben Caspit in the Maariv daily. “The bad news for Netanyahu is the strength of the protest. The good news is that it doesn’t touch his electoral base, particularly the religious public.”
Caspit warned that the protesters have plenty of grievances to draw on and sustain the unrest.
“In terms that Netanyahu understands very well, we are in the midst of a massive forest fire, with 150 flash points. A thousand supertankers wouldn’t be enough to put all this out,” he warned.
“The housing crisis, health, education, petrol, child care and so many other things. It is all jumping up at once.”
Nahum Barnea, writing in the daily Yediot Aharonot, described the protests as unprecedented.
“Whether the crowds numbered 100,000 or 200,000, never have such numbers descended into the streets over social issues,” he wrote.
“Who would have believed that 150,000 Israelis would take the trouble to go out into the street in the name of social change?”
Barnea hailed the persistence and passion of the protest movement, saying that “the alienation and cynicism that typified the public in the past number of years has now been replaced by involvement and protest.”
And he warned that the demonstrations, which have shown staying power since beginning in mid-July, will be “like a bone stuck in the government’s throat.”
Left-wing commentator Gideon Levy, known for his searing criticism of his countrymen over Israel’s settlement policies, titled his commentary “The night I was proud to be Israeli.”
“It was the night that every Israeli can and should be proud of being Israeli, as never before,” he wrote.
“There can be no better public relations campaign for this despised, shunned country than the demonstration last night of this new Israel.”
Levy warned that Netanyahu was “handed his walking papers” by the protesters.
“Israelis across the country scream, ‘Bibi go home,’ Bibi will indeed go home. Bye bye, Bibi, goodbye for good.”
Breaking with the excited tone of coverage, the Israel Hayom newspaper, considered close to Netanyahu, focused on the reforms that his government is expected to take to “lower the cost of living and reduce indirect taxes.”
But Yair Lapid, writing in Yediot Aharonot, encouraged the protesters to stay strong, telling them: “You won.”
“You’ve defeated the perennial and false division between right and left, you’ve defeated the insulting distinction between centre and periphery, you’ve defeated the parties’ central committees, the spin doctors, the media consultants, the rude Internet commenters,” Lapid wrote.
“Mainly, you’ve won against the cynicism that had corrupted this country’s soul.”