What began as a protest against housing prices has become much broader, assimilating parallel protests into its ranks and gaining the full backing of the histadrut, Israel's most influential labor federation. The movement is seeking no less than a New Deal for Israel; a state based on free-market principles that nevertheless adheres to the basic Israeli compact developed by the parents and grandparents of the protest leadership.
Many also hope that it marks the reassertion of political power by the middle class, "tax paying" majority, which has seen successive left and right-leaning governments divert state resources and privileges away from them and toward special interest groups as a result of Israeli coalition politics.
The spontaneous display of unity among the secular majority has become dangerous to the Likud government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is now scrambling to respond, but he is hampered on two fronts. First, the rhetoric of some government members has been dismissive, referring to the protesters as "anarchists" and "radicals." This only fanned the flames of the movement and led to the massive turnout last Saturday night. Second, even if alone he could meet the protesters demands, his governing coalition depends on the votes of the religious and settler parties who benefit from the state's current structure for allocating resources.
For their part, organizers of the protests, who are cutting their teeth as leaders by the hour, acknowledge that Netanyahu may not be able to deliver what they demand. "We have very high demands that are very hard to comply with," said Stav Shaffir, 26, a journalist and graduate student who organized the original Facebook demonstration with Leef. "We want to change the system as a whole."
In targeting the "priorities of the government," however, the movement is toeing a very fine line. Left-wing politicians and commentators are making noise about diverting subsidies, tax breaks, and welfare checks away from settlers and ultra-Orthodox Israelis and redirecting them to those who live within Israel's pre-1967 borders and to the secular majority. Meanwhile, right-wing politicians are calling for increased construction in the West Bank in order to alleviate the housing shortage. If segments of the protesters support either of those causes, the movement may fracture and let Netanyahu off the hook.
To avoid that scenario and maintain the pressure on the government, Shaffir said, the organizers are trying to operate the protest as a big-tent movement which can continue to draw in more people from both the left and right of the Israeli political spectrum. That means making many "compromises" and not touching "controversial issues" like the settlements in order to keep everyone on board.
"To divide the people for so long wasn't an accident, it was a political strategy, because to divide is to control. And we're seeing that now that we're together the government doesn't know what to do," Shaffir said.