Israelis march against austerity budget

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Israelis marched late Saturday to protest against an austerity budget due for cabinet debate on Monday which is expected to raise income tax and VAT while also slashing government spending.

Around 2,000 people gathered in central Tel Aviv, an AFP journalist reported, in a muted echo of mass cost of living protests of summer 2011.

This time their anger was aimed at newly installed Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who was swept to power in a January general election on the coattails of that same protest movement.

Protesters in Tel Aviv carried banners reading “Take from the tycoons, not us,” referring to the plan to raise workers’ income tax by 1.5 percentage points while increasing corporate taxes by one point.

Others bore signs reading “Israel is dear to us” or giant pictures of Lapid.

Lapid himself insists that caution is needed in order not to drive employers abroad.

“Who are you demonstrating against? Are your demonstrating so that you can lose your jobs, so that the economy will collapse? You are demonstrating against yourselves,” he said in an interview aired on Friday by privately owned Channel 2 television.

About 300 people also demonstrated outside the Tel Aviv home of Energy Minister Silvan Shalom over plans to export Israel’s new-found offshore natural gas supplies rather than cut prices to domestic consumers, local media reported.

They also said around 150 people each rallied in Jerusalem and Haifa.

Saturday’s protests were a reversal of roles for Lapid who tapped into middle class grievances to take his newly minted Yesh Atid party to striking success in its first ever election campaign, becoming the second-largest party in parliament and a partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.

The 2011 protests saw record numbers of Israelis from all walks of life come together in unusual solidarity, peaking on September 3, when half a million people took to the streets.