At 10pm local time about 70,000 people were mobilised throughout the country, according to police estimates, which did not give a breakdown of numbers in every city or town.
Protest leaders said they were hoping for a turnout larger than last Saturday’s, when more than 300,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv and other cities calling for “social justice” and a “welfare state”. “The key for us is to show that the people are united, that we live in a single country and that everything must be done to bridge social gaps,” said Stav Shafir, a protest leader. The largest crowds were in the northern city of Haifa, where more than 30,000 protesters turned up, and just over 10,000 gathered in Beersheva in the south, less than the numbers expected by protest leaders. “We finally hear the voice of the people of the south, not just Tel Aviv,” said Adar Meron, a Flamenco dancer and among the first to pitch a protest tent in Beersheva, the capital of the impoverished Negev region. At Beersheva’s main square, a huge banner read “The Negev awakens”. Demonstrators carried banners and placards that read “the south is angry”, and “toward a welfare state – now”. Crowds chanted “the people demand social justice”, the slogan of the protests since they began a month ago with the appearance of the first protest tent along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv’s upscale district. Smaller crowds also gathered in Afula in the north, in Galilee, in Modiin in the centre, and in Eilat in the extreme south. The goal of the latest protests, organisers said, is to expand the geographic and demographic scope of the movement, as so far the middle class has been the driving force behind social justice rallies. Rapidly growing protest movement Israel has been gripped since mid-July by the rapidly growing protest movement demanding cheaper housing, education and health care. An opinion poll released by Channel 10 television on Tuesday showed that 88 per cent of respondents said they supported the movement, with 53 per cent saying they are willing take part in protests. Under pressure from the protests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was willing to alter his approach to the free-market economy and meet the demands of the demonstrators. He created a commission to propose reforms and present recommendations to the government within a month.