Land reform: We don't understand it, but we know we don't like it

Most Israelis feel they lack sufficient knowledge about the Israel Lands Administration reform plan, a new survey has revealed. The plan, which was proposed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his election campaign, has become a major issue in the current Knesset, fiercely rejected by the opposition and some members of the coalition. The survey, conducted by the Ma'agar Mohot research institute for AMI, an organization dedicated to social change, found that a large majority of the population (81 percent) reported that they didn't know enough about the details of the reform plan and that only 10% thought the debate conducted on the matter in the Knesset was sufficient. The poll was based on phone interviews with 503 randomly chosen adults. It asked whether they thought Israeli lands should be seen as a permanent national resource or as a commodity that could be sold to the highest bidder. The results showed that 74% saw the land as a national resource and only 16% said the lands should be sold. Among Israeli Arabs, the split was 52% versus 31%. When presenting the proposed reform, Netanyahu said the plan would bring down land prices. But only 30% of those questioned agreed; 43% said conducting the reform would not lead to lower prices. One of the main arguments that opponents of the reform have used is that privatization of the lands would open the door to the purchase and takeover of the land by hostile agents. The message seems to have sunk in, as 72% of those asked perceived the possibility as a real danger. Among Arab Israelis, the results were different, with only 42% responding that such a scenario was likely. Asked whether they thought the reform should take place at all, 52% of the public said it shouldn't, while only 16% were in favor of it. Another survey this week, by the Civil-Environmental Coalition in Opposition to the Privatization of Israeli Lands, revealed that 60% of the public believed that the main beneficiaries of the reform plan would be real estate moguls, while only 9% thought common citizens would benefit. The survey also showed support for the coalition members who stayed away from last week's Knesset vote, with 43% saying the MKs had done the right thing. The Civil-Environmental Coalition, in cooperation with MKs from across the political spectrum, held an emergency meeting in the Knesset on Wednesday under the sponsorship of the Social-Environmental lobby. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni opened the conference, saying, "The land reform has no purpose. It serves nothing more than the privatization urges of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is irresponsible and knows no limits." Opposition to the proposed reform has beefed up, both in the Knesset and in the general public, since the government's failed attempt at passing the law last week in the Knesset. On the Civil-Environmental Coalition's Web site,, organizers have set up an application enabling users to send letters of protest to MKs they believe can be pressured into changing their minds. A drop-down menu of potential recipients includes Likud MKs Moshe Ya'alon, Gideon Sa'ar, Miri Regev, Gilad Erdan, Tzipi Hotovely and Danny Danon, as well as MKs Avishai Braverman and Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor), Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), Daniel Herschkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi), and Orly Levy (Israel Beiteinu). Another group, the Core of the Fight Against the Privatization of the Land in Israel, sent out a letter to all 120 MKs, warning them that privatizing the land could lead to the beginning of the destruction of the Third Temple. The letter urged them, on Tisha Be'Av, to "be brave and stand up for yourselves, the nation's morality and our existence in this country." In response to the public debate, the Finance Ministry released a document explaining the reform. It assured the public that there were mechanisms in place to ensure that the land did not end up in foreign hands, and that it would be the job of the new body established as part of the reform, to make sure the land was distributed equally and to prevent concentrated ownership. The Knesset is scheduled to convene once more next week to vote on the ILA reform bill.