State Comptroller Joseph Shapira.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira announced Tuesday that he would publish his report on housing at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
The report is considered a bombshell that could damage Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming election, as it is expected to criticize him for failing to reduce the high price of housing.
It would also alter the focus from his more comfortable national security terrain to socioeconomic issues, where the Zionist Union is considered to have an advantage.
The timing of the report is not merely problematic for Netanyahu because it is less than two weeks before the election, but also because it might upstage the speech on Iran he will deliver to the US Congress next week.
The comptroller’s decision to release the report came amid heavy pressure from the Likud Party to delay it until after the election, and equally heavy pressure from the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and Koolanu parties not to delay it.
Sources in the Likud expressed frustration with Shapira for advancing the release of his report to Wednesday evening – after most polls are taken and columns for weekend papers written – rather than to next week, when the prime minister’s speech might overshadow the report. Netanyahu convened close aides and political allies to prepare for the document’s publication. They placed the blame for the housing crisis on former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former finance minister Yair Lapid.
A Midgam poll on Channel 2 found that 37 percent of Israelis blamed the housing shortage on Netanyahu, 17% on Lapid, 8% on Olmert, 2% on Construction Minister Uri Ariel, and 9% on none of the above, with 27% saying they did not know.
On Saturday night, sources close to Shapira said the date for publishing the report had been set before the election was advanced.
“The state comptroller is not a player in the political sphere,” a source close to Shapira said. “When a comptroller’s report is ready, it legally must be published. Our office’s work is done with only professional considerations in mind.
It is improper for the comptroller or his office to be influenced by a political timeline.”
Shapira’s associates said the housing crisis was serious and harmed the weakest sectors of the population.
They said the report analyzed work done by several bodies and multiple governments, including the Olmert and Netanyahu governments, the Israel Lands Authority, the Construction Ministry, the Interior Ministry and local planning authorities.
They called on the politicians not to “make cynical use” of Shapira’s reports.
So controversial is the document that several politicians, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), Yesh Atid chairman Lapid, Koolanu leader Moshe Kahlon and Labor MK Itzik Shmuli, were already attacking opposing parties on Tuesday to try and position the blame on their rivals.
Lapid said, “The comptroller gives full support to my party’s claim that the housing crisis is a direct result of the neglect of Netanyahu and the Likud.”
Kahlon said the report was irrelevant because it did not include 2014, when, he said, there was a “serious failure.” Housing prices rose 7% in a year and a half, he said.
Ya’alon said that “instead of funding moving military bases from the Center to the Negev, which would have freed up land to be marketed, he [Lapid] focused on his 0% VAT gimmick” – referring to Yesh Atid’s proposal to exempt some young couples buying their first new homes from VAT.