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Israelis Protest High Cost of Living

Thousands of Israelis march during a protest against the rising cost of living in Israel, in central Tel Aviv , Israel, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011.

Chanting “the people want social justice,” tens of thousands of Israelis packed the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the second straight week to protest the high cost of living. They came from many walks of life, including teachers, students, government workers and doctors.

Daphne Leef, one of the protest organizers, has been living in a tent camp in Tel Aviv for nearly two months to press for lower housing prices. “It’s so impossible to finance your life that we have no future; that’s how I feel right now," she said.

That is because wages are low in Israel but prices are high. “I go from day to day. I have no idea how to save money. I have no idea how I will someday buy a house. I mean we are stuck in this day-to-day absurd situation," she said.

A modest apartment in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem can cost $500,000, and the price of food and gasoline has skyrocketed. At the same time, the average salary in Israel is about $2,500 a month. Teachers and civil servants typically earn less than $2,000 a month, and many doctors in the public sector only earn $12 an hour.

Protesters are demanding that the government lower taxes, subsidize housing and bring prices down. But the government has sent mixed signals.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced housing reforms, such as selling state-owned land at a discount to lower the price of apartments. But he opposes massive government spending on welfare on grounds that it would harm Israel’s booming economy.

There is also a new political element: Some protesters charge that government subsidies to ultra-Orthodox Jews and Jewish settlements in the West Bank have come at the expense of Israel’s struggling middle class.