Histadrut national labor union chairman Ofer Eini punctured the housing protest balloon Monday morning and said he will not be part of an effort topple the Netanyahu government.
“If the objective [of the protests] is to bring down Netanyahu, I will not participate,” he said in an interview on Army Radio. “We are a democratic government, and we are not Egypt or Syria.”
The housing protest, featured by tent city protests throughout the country, led by left-wing activists and encouraged by mainstream media, may have reached its peak with Eini’s statements and Sunday’s populist actions that were greeted with scorn by the government and even by some media outlets.
Reports of 150,000 protesters -- and one report said "hundreds of thousands" -- Saturday night were absolutely false, a journalist for the Hebrew news site NRG said Monday. He said the official figure was 114,000 and charged that media published "lies" to encourage a hoped-for national uprising.
Protesters issued a list of demands, including free education, lower housing, improved medical care and a long list of other complaints that it wants solved through open and direct talks with the Prime Minister.
Virtually everyone, from Prime Minister Netanyahu to the less than a dozen billionaires who hold the bulk of Israel’s industrial assets, admit that the complaints are justified. However, the root of the problems go back deep into Israel’s modern history, and virtually no one – except protest leaders – think they are the fault of the Netanyahu government and can be repaired quickly.
Staunchly secular writer and political activist Yair Lapid stated bluntly on Monday that the target of the protests is not only the Netanyahu government but the entire establishment that promotes Judaism in public life.
Concerning the protesters' demand to speak directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu, union chairman Eini said, “There is a limit to how much you can disgrace the Prime Minister." He is not a person but is an institution and citizens have the obligation to respect him. If they want to replace him in a democratic way, they have to change social priorities but they cannot destroy national priorities.
“There is a government in Israel, and everyone has the freedom to protest, but they must do so correctly.”