Jerusalem and Tel Aviv’s admirable ascension over the past decade has come at a
cost: Real estate prices have increased steeply and populations that could
afford to live in the cities a generation ago can no longer do so. Young
professionals, essential to the cities’ growth, are being forced out of the city
Various solutions to the severe housing shortage have been
proposed, and a healthy debate now ensues on the merits of such
Yet what should be avoided is a tendency to deflect the
core problem by finding a scapegoat.
Unfortunately, such a scapegoat was
found: Diaspora Jews who own vacation homes in Israel. And a remedy is being put
in place: A new sanction against such vacation- home owners, doubling their
Such a sanction is not only against the interests of
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but is also contrary to the Zionist narrative. At
Zionism’s core is the encouragement of Diaspora Jews to view Israel as their
The Jewish Agency has shifted its focus in recent
years from advocating aliya to urging Diaspora Jews to strengthen their
relations with Israel. A strong manifestation of such relations would be for a
Diaspora Jew to choose Israel as his vacation home, as opposed to another
This would no doubt be an admirable display of
Having said that, it is certainly legitimate to sacrifice
Zionist interests for the interest of the residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
If imposing such a sanction would lead to a reduction in housing prices for the
local residents, then government should indeed consider balancing the two
conflicting interests to promote the welfare of residents. But as broadly
agreed, levying the additional tax would have a negligible effect on housing
Beyond enforceability issues, it is unlikely to prompt a large
number of owners to sell or rent their property.
What it does, however,
is deliver a strong message that is clearly being received by Jerusalem and Tel
Aviv’s part-time residents: We don’t want you here.
Such an approach
toward vacation- home owners is fundamentally flawed. There are certainly heavy
costs, but there are also many benefits that vacation-home owners
Vacation-home ownership fuels the economy, creates jobs, infuses
capital, generates population diversity, globalizes the city and boosts tourism.
It also creates a long-term trickle-down effect: The vacation- home owner’s
children, relatives and friends are much more likely to visit Israel, spend
money in restaurants and stores, invest in local businesses, direct funds to
Israeli charities and maybe even make aliya.
Beyond the economic benefit
to the cities and its residents, Diaspora Jews visiting their Israeli vacation
homes regularly contribute to the development of Israel’s society across various
spectrums. Greater day-today interaction of foreigners and Israelis exposes
Israelis to global business opportunities, and fosters innovation,
idea-generation and standards.
Such an affluent demographic brings more
of the outside world into the heart of Israeli cities. Israeli society is strong
enough to allow a higher degree of pluralism and sustain a more diverse range of
Rather than broadcast the message of “Israel for
the Israelis,” it is time to invite Diaspora Jews to feel part of the Israeli
story. We need to ask them to participate in their own way, not in the way
prescribed by government regulations. Israel should better understand the
concept of vacation- home ownership and embrace it – not fight it. Encouraging
vacation- home owners to spend more time in Israel is far more beneficial than
encouraging them to spend no time at all in Israel (e.g. rent or sell their
The current debate is reminiscent of a debate that occurred in
Israel in the 1920s. Just like now, much of the local Israeli public and many
Israeli leaders were critical of a wave of affluent Diaspora Jews coming in,
boosting real estate prices and bringing with them Diaspora European behavior
patterns: “The homeowners have arrived,” they were mocked.
“These are no
It is true that the 1920’s Fourth Aliya boosted
housing prices (over 100 percent) and contributed to the economic hardship of
the late 1920s.
But those same immigrants also transformed Tel Aviv from
a collection of neighborhoods into a metropolitan city. They created an
industrial infrastructure in Israel, and brought with them technology, art,
capital and innovation. Their arrival was highly beneficial to Israel’s
development – economically, socially and politically. Contrary to some
perceptions at that time, they were indeed builders of Israel.
since grown and today serves as a prime connecter of Diaspora Jews. Moreover,
Israel is a key enabler for the survivability of Judaism itself. Vacation-home
owners today are builders of Israel. They should be welcomed with warmth and
This regulation unfortunately sends a message in the opposite
direction, and does so without providing much relief to the housing
The writer is a board member of the America-Israel Friendship
League, and chairman of the AIFL think tank.