Leaders of the main tent-city protest on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv
dismissed solutions to the housing problem announced by Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu on Tuesday.
The activists called the measures out of touch and
not broad enough in scope to deal with the problems facing everyday
PM presents plan to add 50,000 new apartments,
PM to announce dramatic reforms in housing
11 arrested in mass-housing protests in
Late Tuesday evening, some of the protest centers turned
In Gan Haem in Haifa, where some 700 were demonstrating,
protesters blocked a junction nearby. Police unblocked the road and arrested
seven people. In Tel Aviv, near the neighborhood of Hatikva, Haetzel street was
blocked by demonstrators who said they would resist attempts to remove
Earlier, at the tent-city press conference, 26-year-old Tel Avivian
Daphni Leef, who started the protest movement nearly two weeks ago, said the
prime minister’s plan left the vast majority of people without an answer to the
spiraling costs of living.
“Netanyahu said he will give plots of land out
for free, and who will get them? Those people in Israel in need? No, those who
will get them are the contractors, and the rest of his wealthy friends who can
build on land free of charge. [The] houses will be the opposite of free. This is
what Netanyahu presented as low-income housing covered by the state. It will
actually be the largest privatization to be carried out in the history of his
“What Mr. Netanyahu proposed was nothing less than
fraud. Not only will he continue his cynical politics, but worsen them, and he
dared to look us straight in the eye and lied when he presented these
“Our answer to his offer is ‘No,’ Leef said.
“We here in
Tel Aviv may be young, but we weren’t born yesterday.”
Leef also offered
criticism of how she said the protest movement has been portrayed.
have they not said about us in recent days? When we came here with our tents 10
days ago, they said we were just some spoiled kids from Tel Aviv.
young couples, middleaged couples and elderly people joined us, they said we
were delusional leftists.
“Then other cities in Israel joined... and
people from every color of the Israeli political rainbow came together,
supporters of all parties and social movements.
We are the people,” she
Leef described Netanyahu’s offers as being directed almost entirely
at university students, without consideration of the rest of those in
“He turned to students and offered them cheap housing.
specifically them? What about single mothers? What about the elderly, what about
those students who will graduate in a year or two?” she asked.
protest leader, 33- year-old Yigal Rambam, asked, “When he talks about students
and discharged soldiers, what about our grandparents? What about the disabled?
Every sector in Israeli society suffers from the housing problem and there isn’t
a general solution here. Any real solution must deal with rental prices, the
prices of buying land, public housing and housing assistance. Any solution needs
to include all of these issues.”
Other protesters repeatedly tried to
disrupt Netanyahu’s press conference, where he unveiled his plan, shouting that
Leef and the other protest leaders were not to be listened to, and that the
ministers did not understand the issues at hand.
As detailed in his
speech, the prime minister’s reforms included incentives for contractors to
build low-cost housing, via tenders that will be won by whoever agrees to sell
and rent apartments at the cheapest prices.
Land is to be allocated
across the country for such projects.
There are also incentives for
changing office buildings into residences.
Additionally, thousands of
dormitory units will be built for students, in the hopes of freeing up rental
apartments. Discounts of 50 percent on public transportation for students are
also part of the plan.
Protesters in Rothschild Boulevard had gathered
around a flatscreen TV affixed to a tree to watch Netanyahu’s press conference,
surrounded by dozens of cameramen and reporters.
Netanyahu’s speech was
met by boos and heckling by the protesters, many of whom stormed off before he
finished introducing his proposals.
A few hours later, the National Union
of Israeli Students held a press conference in which union head Itzik Shmuli
said the union would not pull out of the struggle, even though the package
offered to students was “without precedent.”
“We can’t ignore the fact
that the package that the prime minister offered today to the students of Israel
is an unprecedented achievement, I could even say historic, but I look to my
left and right all the time and I see that I’m not alone in this struggle,”
“When I’m arrested or I struggle in the streets, I see on
both sides of me people who aren’t students. Not only that, I look behind us and
see people who don’t have the strength to come and shout with
“Abandoning the greater struggle over housing would be irresponsible
and immoral,” Shmuli said. “We are focusing on the issues of housing, and this
problem is beyond those of students.”
Ron Livneh, head of the student
union at Tel Aviv University, said Netanyahu had not consulted with student
unions before formulating his proposals, and the plans he presented on Tuesday
were “not only a bad solution, but the attempted bribery of the student
We will not lend our hands to this ‘divide and conquer’
strategy... Our protest is continuing at full force!” Livneh vowed that students
would block more roads, occupy more buildings and hold more protests across the
The students’ announcement that they would continue to
take part in the struggle came as an answer to those who worried that Netanyahu
would present solutions directed specifically at students and convince them to
withdraw from the protest movement, causing it to lose a crucial part of its
Alternative, detailed programs to solve the housing crisis were
not presented at the press conferences that followed Netanyahu’s in the morning
– one held by Leef and fellow protest leaders and the other by student leaders
later in the afternoon.
In contrast to Tel Aviv, young demonstrators in
Jerusalem were cautiously optimistic following the prime minister’s speech, but
said they were not budging from Gan Hasus (Horse Park) in King George Avenue
until they saw concrete steps that would significantly reduce the housing
“All in all, it gives us a good basis for negotiations,” said
Ofer Berkovitch, head of the activist group Hitorerut Yerushalayim (Jerusalem
Awakening) and a former city council member.
Demonstrators still needed
clarifications about the number of new apartments for rent, the number of new
apartments subsidized through the “price by inhabitant” program, and what steps
are being taken against the growth in “ghost apartments,” which belong to
foreign residents who visit for less than a month a year and drive housing
prices up across the city by gobbling up available apartments, Berkovitch
“We want to hear specific solutions for Jerusalem, because it’s
much more complicated here,” he said, adding that the capital’s tent city will
stay in place until they receive Jerusalem-specific solutions, even if the
protesters on Rothschild in Tel Aviv go home.
In contrast to the chaotic
clamor in Tel Aviv, where the demonstrators have struggled to find a common
voice, the demonstrators in Jerusalem have had clear demands from the start,
partly because many Jerusalem activist groups aimed at keeping young people in
the capital have been dealing with affordable housing issues for years,
Most of the students in Jerusalem viewed the government
plan as a good beginning, but vowed to stay in their tents, which had grown to a
semicircle of more than 40 tents, until they saw meaningful change.
gave a very concrete list of demands, especially about the price of rental
apartments, and on the surface, the prime minister has gone into many of these
requests,” said Nissan Yaron, a fifth-year cinema student at the Sam Spiegel
Film School. “In our opinion it’s an excellent beginning, but we’re waiting for
the concrete solutions.”
“They promised 10,000 apartments, but we haven’t
seen this on paper, and anyway the problem is tens of thousands of apartments,
so it’s not enough,” said Ohad Halevi, a law student at the Hebrew
Halevi added that some aspects of the new housing plan,
especially the promise to give students living outside of major city centers a
50% discount on public transportation, were “cosmetic” answers rather than
The Jerusalem tent city launched a Facebook page to
announce a daily schedule of lectures, concerts with live music and DJs, and
screenings of documentaries that deal with working class issues.
expressed trepidation that the tent cities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were
turning into social gathering spots rather than political movements, but added
that the most important thing was to get as many people as possible involved in
the protests to continue to publicly pressure Netanyahu. The tent demonstrations
entered their 12th day on Tuesday.
“This is a bigger struggle, it’s not
just doctors, social workers, cottage cheese, or gas prices,” Berkovitch said.
“This needs to be the first step in a long march to allow people to live with
In Independence Park in Jerusalem, the “family area” of the
tent protest, 10 tents were set up by families who are demanding more public
Beit Shemesh joined the campaign on Tuesday for the first time,
with a tent city and a demonstration in the afternoon to encourage some of the
4,000 already-approved apartments for Beit Shemesh to go to secular and
Half of the 4,000 apartments have already been
set aside for haredim, and there is political pressure for the remaining 2,000
to be haredi housing as well, said City Council member Shalom Lerner, a
21-year-resident of Beit Shemesh.
Students in Jerusalem insisted the
movement transcended just students, and was for all groups struggling to find
affordable housing, including single parents, the elderly and discharged
soldiers, though no representatives of those groups were present on
American olah Judy Boyd, a 69-year-old retiree originally from
Virginia, expressed support for the struggle while passing by the
“The dollar is going down and I’m on a fixed income,” she
“This is not just about young people. What about me?”
and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.