PM calls on ‘rent revolters’ to protest at Knesset

Netanyahu calls on tent demonstrators to support his land reform proposal; Attias says plans to build apartments in periphery.

By
July 18, 2011 09:56
MKs visit tent city housing protest in TA

Tent City Undearwear 311. (photo credit: LAHAV HARKOV)

Tel Aviv’s tent city housing protest stretched into its fourth day on Sunday, the first full workday since the protest began last Thursday night.

In his first public comments on the burgeoning “rent revolt,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on the protesters who had set up tent camps to come to the Knesset on Monday to help fight what he characterized as “insane” bureaucracies.

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“I am aware of the rent crisis.

I am certainly aware of the housing crisis,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

“The government is doing things here to repair this blight that has vexed the State of Israel for many years. We are a small country. We have a very large demand for apartments, both for purchase and for rental, and there are not enough apartments. There are not enough apartments because we have two insane bureaucracies that prevent the planning and marketing of apartments.

“Tomorrow, the proposal to complete the historic reform at the Israel Lands Authority will reach the Knesset so that we will be able to market apartments,” he said, calling on the protesters to come to the Knesset on Monday to help the government pass the proposal.

This bill is intended to streamline the bureaucratic process at the ILA.

Netanyahu said the second track is to pass the national housing commissions bill in another 13 days that calls for the establishment of planning committees that would accelerate the planning process.

“In the next two weeks we will submit two historic laws that the State of Israel has been awaiting and hoping for, because only together will it be possible to bring about a genuine start of the housing solution,” Netanyahu said. “I would like to say in advance that it will take between two and three years to channel tens of thousands of apartments into the market. But this is what will resolve the issue; this is what will provide a genuine solution.”

Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting last month that Israel lacks 80,000 to 100,000 housing units.

Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) said on Sunday in an interview with Israel Radio that the high housing prices in Tel Aviv are a result of a shortage of apartments and a lack of available land in the city on which to build more.

He said that there is available land in Modi’in, Rosh Ha'ayin, Yavne, and Herzliya, where it is possible to build up to 25,000 units in the next two year With the start of the work week, the crowd at the tent city on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard was noticeably thinner than on Friday and Saturday, though there were still several dozen protesters holding camp and giving interviews to the media. Lacking a clear leadership or ironclad rules of demonstrating, the protest has a free-for-all feel to it, though it does seem the protesters are united around the cause of lower housing prices. Furthermore, unlike typical Tel Aviv protests, those who took to the megaphones did not speak of the “occupation” or the peace process with the Palestinians, though there were calls for Netanyahu to step down as prime minister and for his entire coalition to fall.

A schism between the more radical contingent and the moderate majority of protesters was evident on the fringes of the protest, with a few protesters shouting for the demonstrators to block the streets or burn tires at street junctions, calls that went unheeded. At one point, a handful of protesters with megaphones encircled a municipal clerk who had written a ticket for a woman who did not clean up after her dog on the sidewalk. Within minutes, cooler heads prevailed, and the clerk and the woman and her dog went on their way.

Among those calling for harsher measures was a middle-aged Tel Aviv resident named Hanoch, who said the mainly young crowd on Rothschild lacked the intensity or chutzpa of previous generations of Israeli activists.

“These people are too cultured and quiet. I’m from the generation of the [Israeli] Black Panthers, who used to go out and block streets and burn tires, not like these people. They won’t win this way, they’re naïve, it won’t get them anywhere.”

The tent city real-estate revolt was launched 11 days ago after 25-year-old Tel Avivian Daphni Leef opened a Facebook page calling for discontented renters to set up a tent city on Rothschild Boulevard on the evening of Thursday July 14, and call for cheaper housing across Israel. Since Thursday, the protest has seized headlines in Israel and drawn the attention of politicians and angry tenants alike.

On Sunday, the tent city received its most high-profile visit by a politician yet, when Knesset Economics Committee Chairman MK Carmel Shama- Hacohen showed up with fellow members of the Knesset Economics and Interior Committee on the Bill to Accelerate Housing Construction, Kadima MKs Yulia Shamolov Berkovich and Nino Abesadze, as well as MK Dov Henin (Hadash).

During the meeting, Shama-Hacohen said, “Either prices will fall or the government will fall – it’s one or the other.”

While the cause of housing prices has been the rallying cry for the protest, demonstrators spoken to by The Jerusalem Post on Sunday said that at the end of the day, the price of rent or mortgages is only part of a greater series of everyday issues facing Israelis.

Gil Sasson, 35, of Tel Aviv, said, “We need a change in the government, we need one that looks out for the individual and not for tycoons. We have a free market that is running wild without regulation. We see this in every field; in the media, with food costs, housing, if there isn’t supervision or regulation it will only get worse…We need a government that doesn’t just worry about tycoons, but worries about the individual, in all fields in society.”

Gil Yaakov, 33, of Tel Aviv, who lives with roommates and says he doesn’t see himself being able to afford his own place anytime soon, said that rent prices aren’t the only issue, and is merely a symptom of a wider phenomenon of government neglect.

“The government doesn’t help provide places of employment outside of the center of Israel, and there isn’t good public transportation for the periphery and the rest of the country to get to Tel Aviv. So, people feel that they have to work and live in the center, but the only building projects that are approved are for luxury projects.”

Moran Yisrael, 27, of Holon, took issue with the contention that the problem is limited to Tel Aviv, saying, “The problem in Holon is exactly the same. A young person in the State of Israel, but also families who want to buy and want a roof over their heads, can’t buy a house or rent one at a reasonable price, and this is the most basic human need there is. We aren’t talking about people who are unemployed or didn’t serve in the army. These are people who worked, who served in the army and take a part in the society.”

When asked why the protest hasn’t taken a stand on issues such as the West Bank settlements or the peace process, he said the protest isn’t a right-wing or a left-wing movement, and that “this protest has raised the flag of housing prices, which is an important and basic issue. No doubt there are other issues that must be solved, but in my opinion, they are problems that are derived from the distance between the decision makers and the people in our society… They must understand that this society will implode if something big and dramatic doesn’t happen right away.”

He added, “I think that everything, all of these issues [the “occupation,” peace process] are connected because it is the makeup of our lives, but there isn’t a political consensus on these issues, there is a consensus on the issue of housing, and its not a protest of the Left or Right at all, it’s a protest of people who can’t take any more and have no other country to go to, and need the opportunity to stay here and contribute.”

Irena Schutz, 56, who made aliya from Russia in 1999, took issue with the claim that young people have created the problem of high rent prices by insisting on living in Tel Aviv, saying, “It’s not just in Tel Aviv, its everywhere.

I spend NIS 1,500 shekels for a oneroom apartment, and it would be the same thing in Beersheba, it’s the same everywhere. They lie to you and say it’s all so much cheaper in Arad or Beersheba, but it’s the same problem, the prices are too high everywhere.”

Bat Yam resident Yossi Mazor, 73, came to the tent city in what he said was a show of solidarity with the younger generation, whom he said are facing a far harder economic struggle for housing than those of his generation.

“When I was 23 I bought an apartment for 32,000 lirot and I earned about 600 lirot a month. That is about 60 monthly salaries. Today, even in Bat Yam, you need about 180 monthly salaries to do the same. I know that it’s just getting worse, and these young people here, they don’t want to emigrate to somewhere else, they’re the salt of this country and they want to stay here. Why can’t they have the opportunity?“ On Saturday night, the National Students Union said it would join the struggle, and on Sunday, Uri Keidar, chairman of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev student union, said students from BGU are setting up a tent city because housing prices in Beersheba are only getting worse.

“The problem hasn’t gotten to the same point as Tel Aviv, but we can’t really wait for that. You don’t need to wait for a catastrophe in order to act. I think that in the four years that I’ve been here, the prices of all apartments have gone up. It’s good that people are seeing Beersheba as a place to invest in, but there need to be solutions to keep the prices reasonable,” Keidar said.

In addition to BGU, a tent city protest was set up at Ruppin Academic College in the Sharon on Sunday, and similar tent protests are planned at four additional educational establishments from Tel Hai in the far north to Bar-Ilan in Ramat Gan.

Also Sunday, around a dozen protesters chanted slogans and set up cardboard boxes outside the Akirov Towers in Tel Aviv, home of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Participant Eli Green, 23, said the protest was part of a series of steps activists are taking during what is being called the “week of rage,” which is meant “to bring a wakeup call to the Israeli public that it is the people who hold the power, not the tycoons living in the luxury towers.”


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