Organizers call on PM to nix housing committees law

"Entire public will take to streets" if law passed, housing-protest organizers threaten, call on PM to hold open, live talks.

By
July 31, 2011 18:03
housing protest representatives

housing protest representatives_311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Organizers of the tent city protest in Tel Aviv that started a nationwide movement called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to strike down the National Housing Committee’s law as a precondition for dialogue with protest leaders.

During a press conference held in Tel Aviv on Sunday, protest organizers called on Netanyahu to remove the bill from the Knesset’s agenda, arguing that it would be detrimental to the cause of affordable housing for the Israeli public.

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Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin announced on Sunday that the second and third (final) readings of the housing bill would be spread through all three plenum discussion days this week.

The National Housing Committee’s bill, the linchpin of Netanyahu’s housing reform plan, is meant to circumvent usual construction-planning bureaucracy in order to build new homes. The bill would allow for the temporary formation of national housing committees, which would work to accelerate the process of approving building projects in the next year and a half.

The National Housing Commission’s law is intended to speed up housing construction by sending projects marked for expedited construction to the National Housing Commission subcommittee for discussion. The subcommittee will consist of seven members, including representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office and Interior Ministry.

National housing committees will be established in each district, and will have the full authority to approve housing plans. The reading will begin on Monday evening, continuing throughout Tuesday, and the bill will be brought to a vote on Wednesday afternoon.

Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini met in his office Sunday evening with protest organizers, including the National Union of Students. Eini threatened last week to join the protests if the government did not include him in a dialogue on the housing crisis. But according to one report by business daily Globes, talks of joining the protest were at a standstill because of the protesters’ insistence that they push for on-camera negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Speaking to reporters at the Rothschild tent city, protest organizer Yigal Rambam called on the prime minister “to open a dialogue with us – one based on the social issues that we presented yesterday at the protest, whose agreed upon goal is to build a just, responsible and egalitarian society.”

In addition to canceling the vote on the committees law, Rambam called on Netanyahu to ensure that “the dialogue [held with protestors] be held in complete transparency, with camera footage in order to ensure for the first time ever, a real public dialogue.”

Rambam also threatened that if Netanyahu does not cancel the vote on the committee’s law planned for Wednesday, then “the entire public will take to the streets and protest.”

The press conference was held the morning after social protests brought an estimated 150,000 Israelis out into the streets across the country. At the central rally held in Tel Aviv, protesters presented a series of demands which were repeated at the press conference on Sunday.

These include state involvement in regulating the housing market and the construction of public housing; equal, quality education for all Israeli students, no matter where they live in Israel, or what sector they belong to; and better pay for Israeli workers and stronger state enforcement of labor laws.

Protester Stav Shafir said that the demands are for “what we call social justice.”

“Really, our demands are dreams more than they are demands, but all of them can come true and make this country a more socially just country that we can all be proud to be a part of,” Shafir added.

Protester Regev Kuntas accused Netanyahu of trying to scare the public through his utterances that social justice will bring economic collapse.

“The PM must open his eyes and understand that the economic collapse is already taking place,” Kuntas said. “The ways things are done here is what is bringing a collapse. The people are demanding deep changes, and the Prime Minister answers with manipulative offers, shot from the hip, that lack basis or goals. This is not responsible management.”

In what could potentially be one of the largest protest actions of the moment, a general strike is planned for across Israel on Monday.

Like the tent city protests, the strike initiative was launched by a group of like-minded friends and took off overnight. By Sunday evening, the group had attracted more than 22,400 RSVPs – significantly more than either of the mass rallies recently held in Tel Aviv.

The Facebook page’s description says that on Monday participants will go en masse to Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park at 5 p.m., where they will hold an informal gathering without any speeches or stages.

Organizers initially planned to head en masse for a gathering at the Knesset, but on Sunday they announced that they cancelled that plan.

One of the group’s founders, Tzvika Besor, wrote on the Facebook page “I’m 36 years old and married with a one-year-old son. I bought an apartment in Givatayim with an insane 30-year mortgage. On the first of August, I plan not to go to work, but to strike. I plan to strike because I’m fed up. I can’t continue to go to work every day as though if I work hard I’ll manage to provide for myself and my family a respectable life.”

Besor’s message relates how he and his wife want to have another child, “but we don’t know if we can allow ourselves to do so.”

He writes about the exorbitant prices he says that he and his wife have had to pay for their child’s diapers, formula, toys and stroller, adding “they robbed us – the government whose taxes we pay is not doing anything, is not exercising control, not investigating, not supervising – only abandoning us.”

An additional protest move launched this week on Facebook will target Israel’s banks, and calls on all Israelis to take out as much money as they can from their bank accounts on August 8.

Described as “Bank fees protest: On August 8th we will withdraw as much as we possibly can from the ATMs!,” the group lists as its goals the passing of a law that will ban banks from charging service fees for the use of ATMs; cancellation of monthly credit card user fees; reduction of the interest rate differential on the overdraft; and a law to compare securities fees to those of investment houses.

While the goals may be complicated, the methods of the protest appear to be rather simple. They call for participants to go to their nearby ATM and take out their entire monthly salary, or as much as they can, and demand that their next monthly salary be cashed-out to them directly.

The group’s Facebook page said the bank’s overnight losses of hundreds of millions of shekels will represent “a terrifying scenario for banks.”

The group added that if a solution is not presented, they will repeat the protest each month at the same time.

Nadav Shemer and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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