Eini threatens to join housing protests

Histadrut to add its clout "at all levels"; Mothers to hold "stroller march" in TA to protest high cost of raising children.

By NADAV SHEMER, MELANIE LIDMAN,
July 28, 2011 00:44
Ofer Eini (R).

ofer eini biz 88 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini pledged support Wednesday for the nationwide demonstrations over housing prices, saying the labor federation would join the protests “at all levels” by Sunday morning if the government did not invite it to discuss real solutions to the issues facing the middle and lower classes.

Eini attacked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan for affordable housing, released 24 hours earlier, saying “people want real solutions.”

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“The state decided, overnight, to move from a socialist policy in which it is involved with its citizens to a totally extreme situation in which it is a capitalist market with no government involvement,” Eini said. “Once there was a middle class, but today that is gone. Young working couples earning NIS 14-15,000 together are unable to see out the month. The worst thing is one senses there is no hope. People feel the government has cut them off, that it only takes money from them, but does not return it. There are billions in excess tax revenues, but they are not returned to the citizenry.”

Eini met with tent city protest organizers in his Tel Aviv office later in the day. It was agreed that the Histadrut would coordinate its demands with them.

The Prime Minister’s Office had no response to Eini’s threat. “We are not relating to it,” one official said, declining to discuss reports that the PMO was furious at the Histadrut head’s ultimatum.

Protest leaders and the National Union of Students welcomed Eini’s announcement on Wednesday, saying his help and that of the Union of Local Authorities would give their protest efforts a serious boost.



In a statement released on Wednesday, representatives of the protest movement’s main campsite in Tel Aviv said: “We welcome the participation of the Histadrut and the Union of Local Authorities in the growing social uprising and calls for social justice. The different groups taking part in the struggle prove that what we started is a popular movement that is not being led by any political body or institution.”

Itzik Shmueli, head of the National Union of Students, said he was “pleased” that the Histadrut and Eini had joined the struggle.

“The Histadrut is a strong body that is definitely suited [to join] the protest started in the field by students and young people, Shmueli said. “The housing shortage does not only affect students. The Histadrut’s participation may allow us to exert pressure on the government and obtain housing solutions for everyone.”

The tent protests taking place in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem continued on Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, around 100 protesters in Jerusalem organized a march from the tent city in Gan Hasus (Horse Park) on King George Street, to Netanyahu’s residence. The demonstrators put up a “For Sale” sign nearby to protest the proliferation of “ghost apartments” in Jerusalem that are bought by foreigners and stay empty for most of the year.

“Bibi doesn’t live here!” they chanted. “The prime minister lives in Caesarea!”

There were no arrests, and the protesters returned peacefully to the tent city.

There are more than 50 tents in the Gan Hasus park, protesting high apartment prices as part of a national struggle. The tent city offered children’s activities throughout the afternoon, as well as lectures and Israeli dancing, with facebook.com/jlmtent listing a full schedule of events.

In Beit Shemesh, 20 tents have sprung up, drawing 100 demonstrators on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

“It’s unique here because we have Russians and Ethiopians, religious people – we even had a minyan because there are a lot of Americans who are religious here,” said city council member Shalom Lerner.

The tent city movement plans to hold a series of demonstrations across Israel on Saturday, a week after a march and rally in Tel Aviv attracted tens of thousands of participants. Saturday’s rally in Tel Aviv will take the same route as last week’s – from Rothschild Boulevard to the Tel Aviv Museum – while in Jerusalem, a march from the Gan Hasus tent city to the prime minister’s residence is planned. In Beersheba, protesters plan on marching from their tent site to the municipality, while in Haifa and Nazareth final locations have not yet been decided.

The protest movement has also called for a general strike across Israel on August 1. By Wednesday, over 17,000 people had responded on Facebook regarding the strike.

With protest actions set for across Israel in the coming days, one of the more anticipated steps is the “strollers march,” planned for 5:30 p.m. in Tel Aviv on Thursday. Held to protest what organizers say is the exorbitant cost of raising children in Israel, the march will include dozens, if not hundreds, of mothers with strollers, walking with their children from the corner of King George Street and Ben-Tzion Boulevard to the tent city on Rothschild.

On the Facebook page for the march, organizers describe the situation of skyrocketing real estate prices combined with nurseries that charge, on average, NIS 3,000 per month per child, as well as the high cost of formula and diapers, and the high number of school vacation days that require finding a babysitter.

The organizers list as their demands a law that will make education free from the age of three months (today it is from age three); price regulation for products like diapers and formula; an extension of maternity leave; an end to the extra fee for strollers on public transport; equal pay for mothers; and further tax credits for parents.

Eyal Basson, spokesperson for the student union, said it would continue its protest measures in the coming days and through next week, adding that even though the package Netanyahu offered Tuesday included benefits for students, “We’re not here alone; it’s a much bigger struggle and we can’t pull out. We’re students, and part of our responsibility is to protest for those who can’t.”

In contrast to the relative lack of clear demands by other branches of the protest movement, Basson said the union had a very clear set of proposals for meeting the housing demand, including lowincome housing and the construction of new student dorms. The union would not halt its efforts until those goals were reached, he stressed.

Basson cited Tuesday’s protests in Haifa and Beersheba in which over a dozen students were arrested, and said the union was trying to think of ways to better exert the protest movement’s pressure. Options would be explored in the coming days, he said.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced he had decided to freeze arnona, or property tax, rates for residential apartments for six months, adding that he would ask the Finance Ministry to compensate local authorities in order to fund the move. Municipalities undergoing special financial recovery programs would be exempt from the freeze, and payment of the tax would be coordinated with them.

“The public is stuck in an economic war of attrition we are obliged to halt,” Yishai said after meeting with the director-general of his ministry. He added that the ministry would also look into raising property tax rates faster in wealthier neighborhoods.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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