Israel ‘democracy’ shrinks as thousands protest in Tel Aviv

Imminent Israeli ‘spring’

TEL AVIV - Eighty-five people were arrested in Tel Aviv overnight after scuffles between demonstrators and security forces following the detention of a social protest leader, police said on Sunday.
The unrest broke out in reaction to incidents during a small rally on Friday, when police arrested Dafni Leef, one of the leaders of the social protest movement that rocked Israel in summer last year.
"The protesters carried out acts of vandalism, blocked the Tel Aviv ring road and refused to disperse," police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, also accusing participants in Saturday's demonstration of breaking shop windows.
A photographer who saw several scuffles between police and protestors on Saturday said at least one demonstrator had a bloody face.
The Saturday demonstration came after police broke up a Friday rally, as protesters tried to set up tents in Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, the posh avenue that became the heart of last year's social protest movement.
The demonstration on Saturday attracted thousands of people, who accused police of using excessive force to prevent protesters from establishing a new protest tent city and in arresting Leef.
Samri said those arrested on Saturday night remained in custody while police decided whether or not to charge them.
The Israeli social movement erupted after youths angry at the cost of housing in Tel Aviv pitched tents in the middle of Rothschild Boulevard to express their frustration.
The tent protest quickly mushroomed, with dozens of similar encampments sprouting in towns and cities across the country.
It won widespread support, sparking weekly demonstrations that eventually attracted hundreds of thousands, breaking records in Israeli and drawing extensive media coverage.
It peaked on September 3, when almost half a million people took part in rallies nationwide, largely fading away with the arrival of winter.
With the return of warm weather, however, the protests have started up again.
After last year's mass protests, the government set up a committee to look into people's grievances and promised reforms in housing, childcare and other areas.
Some reforms have been implemented, including cutting the cost of education, but many Israelis feel the core cost-of-living issues, including the price of food and housing, have not been affected by the measures.