Tue, Aug 02, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Israeli PM forms task force after mass protests


An Israeli woman dances with her young daughter as they join a protest in a “tent city” in the center of Jerusalem on Sunday. Young Israelis brought their children to the small park where the tents are to join a protest over the rising cost of living affecting all Israelis, most particularly young families.

Photo: EPA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday pledged to address the demands of a protest movement that has tapped a wellspring of discontent about the cost of living and income disparities.

Speaking a day after nationwide protests that some newspapers said were the largest ever seen in Israel over social issues, Netanyahu pledged to establish a task force to examine economic reforms and hear the demands of the protesters.

However, demonstrators quickly rejected the measures as superficial and voted to continue their protest, with many planning to observe a one-day strike yesterday.

Netanyahu said he understood the “genuine hardship” faced by many Israelis, but also warned against “hasty” measures he said could throw the country into an economic crisis.

As he met with his Cabinet, thousands of doctors protested outside parliament, raising pressure on the government to find a way to halt the rising cost of everything from cheese to gasoline.

Netanyahu said he would name “a team of ministers who will set up a roundtable discussion with representatives of various sectors to allow them to share their concerns.”

He said the team would be charged with creating a “practical plan” to address the protesters concerns.

The prime minister said he was “aware of the genuine hardship” faced by many, but warned against “irresponsible, hasty and populist steps that are liable to cause the country to deteriorate into the situation of certain European countries, which are on the verge of bankruptcy and large-scale unemployment.”

His measures were quickly rejected by the protesters who have flooded the streets of Israel’s major cities in recent days.

“This is a manipulative maneuver on the part of the prime minister,” protest organizer Daphni Leef said on Israeli television. “We go into the street to bring about a change in the system and he is content to set up a commission searching for way to not take responsibility.”

Activists were reportedly gathering support for another protest — a mass withdrawal of cash from banks on Monday next week to protest against high banking and credit card fees.

In a possible sign of the toll the unrest could take on the government, Israeli Ministry of Finance Director-General Haim Shani submitted his resignation, Ynet reported on Sunday.

In a letter addressed to Israeli Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz, Shani said his decision followed “a long-time fundamental difference of opinion and manner of daily work patterns,” the Web site said.

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