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Steinitz agrees to discuss housing crisis with Eini
By NADAV SHEMER
07/28/2011
Sides say meeting has not been set; Chambers of Commerce chief says Histadrut head embarking on campaign of "opportunism, hypocrisy."
 
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Thursday morning that he is willing to meet with Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, to discuss solutions for the housing crisis, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed him to mediate the government’s dispute with the labor federation.

However, by late Thursday night a meeting had still not been set, a spokeswoman for the finance minister told The Jerusalem Post, while a Histadrut spokesman said the union had received no formal approach from Steinitz.

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“To this day, the dialogue with Eini has helped Israel, the workers, and the economy. If he wants to talk, let’s talk,” Steinitz told Army Radio. He spoke a day after Eini announced he would join antigovernment tent protests “at all levels” by Sunday, if the government does not hold a dialogue on the housing crisis beforehand.

Steinitz dismissed suggestions that Eini’s backing for the protests would help topple the government, saying, “I think this won’t happen and it doesn’t need to happen."

“The current government has been very active and has had a lot of success on the socioeconomic front,” the minister said. “[It] has put an end to major crises, helped workers, working mothers and expanded the budget for pensioners.”

Eini also spoke to Army Radio on Thursday morning, emphasizing again that he would join protest organizers in their efforts.

“This fight belongs to all the citizens – it is a fight for a more just society. We set for ourselves the aim of reaching a consensus in order to find the right solution,” he said, in reference to a meeting the previous day with Tel Aviv protest leaders Daphni Leef, Stav Sapir and Yigal Rambam.

“The government must take responsibility,” Eini said, adding that it must spend billions of shekels to solve housing problems. “This is not just housing, but also the cost of living. The time has come to change social priorities. As the person who leads this nation, the prime minister understands that we have a real problem.”

The Finance Ministry sent a document to the press showing that it would cost NIS 60 billion to satisfy – for what period, the ministry did not say – the combined demands of all the current anti-government protests over housing, gasoline, the medical sector and the cost of raising children.

Demands made by participants in “the stroller march” over the cost of raising children – which only sprang up in the past couple of days – including free education from the age of three months and recognition of nursery-school expenses for tax purposes, would cost NIS 37b., the ministry said.

In comparison, demands over housing would cost far less, with affordable housing requested by students worth around NIS 300m., various demands made by the Histadrut worth around NIS 5b., and demands made by other groups worth several billion more.

Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, attacked Eini in the strongest possible terms, accusing him of embarking on “a campaign of opportunism and hypocrisy.”

“Eini has been partner to the government’s economic policy for years,” Lynn said in a statement, “supporting, astonishingly, automatic- pay increases at the Israel Electric Corporation and prevention of its streamlining, when the cost of electricity price hikes falls time and time again on the public’s back.

“Eini is the one who supports the exploitation of the public through powerful committees. He is the one who fearlessly and unceasingly supports the committees that control the public service monopolies. He is the one who supported a grant worth hundreds of thousands of shekels to port workers and the prevention of competition in the port services, when all the attached costs were loaded onto the price of products and onto the backs of the Israeli consumer.”

Also on Thursday, more than 30 Likud-aligned mayors told Steinitz that they support the government’s new affordable housing plan, and that they would not join a strike on Monday declared by the Union of Local Authorities in support of the protests.

“Likud local authority heads express full confidence in the prime minister’s and finance minister’s program to find solutions to the problem of housing for young couples and students,” said Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, who heads the Likud faction in the Union of Local Authorities.

“One has to commend the achievements of dealing with the financial crisis, the return to economic growth, and the decrease in unemployment in Israel – in contrast to the rest of the world,” Kashriel said.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem Venture Partners founder and Labor Party chairmanship candidate Erel Margalit accused the prime minister of failing to understand the protesters’ “outcry.”

“This stems from his lack of understanding of the new economy. He offers subsidies and charity where he should be making investments,” Margalit said.

Adding that Israel must follow the lead of the United States and invest in its young professionals, Margalit said: “Where Bibi [Netanyahu] sees protest communities, I see communities of potential. The city needs young people more than the young people need the city.”
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