The issue of affordable housing was front and center at about 10:30 yesterday morning in a packed briefing room in the Prime Minister's Office. About 60 chairs had been set up for journalists, but the reporters just kept coming, along with media consultants, functionaries and sound technicians, as well as mayors and planning and building committee heads, who were invited to give the event a practical bearing and impart an element of what is happening on the ground.
There was a sense of suffocation in the room; the air-conditioning was not up to the demand. At the event's peak, there were more than 100 people present, most of them standing, anxiously awaiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers, who were at least 20 minutes late.
All of this gave the impression that major tidings were to come forth from Jerusalem, as Netanyahu finally proceeded into the hall with a determined step. He seemed to be in elevated spirits and came accompanied by government officials, including Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
The prime minister spoke of major changes and of very important and dramatic steps. This would result from very serious work, involving three separate revolutions.
Note, these are revolutions - a fundamental and thorough solution, very, very powerful measures, part of a well-ordered approach.
Our peddler behind the market stand spoke again and again in praise of his shop, demonstrating confidence in his wares, praising his laborers, looking his clientele straight in the eye to see if he has convinced them. And while Atias and Steinitz were speaking, he quietly surveyed the room to make sure the journalists were getting the message, and that the audience understood the magnitude of the hour.
If Netanyahu was under stress, perhaps due to the decline in his support from the public, he didn't show it. He was smiling and jocular, summoning his best rhetoric, using his hands, even holding an imaginary brick. Was this the famous sleight of hand that Netanyahu has elevated to an art form and was it enough to convince the tent protesters and Internet social networking activists? It's doubtful.
Hand gestures and words of praise are not enough. The tone has to be stronger. These are days of street protest, July in the Middle East, a time when slogans are chanted through megaphones and scrawled on cardboard placards.
At the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, they were prepared. On the plasma screen in the briefing room, while the prime minister delivered his remarks, a Powerpoint presentation appeared, full of black and red lettering and matching exclamation marks.
"Why are housing prices going up?" the screen flashed in black letters.
"Because there aren't enough homes!" the answer blinked back in red.
And why is there no housing?
"Suffocating bureaucracy," the answer flashed on the screen.
But as the news conference in Jerusalem proceeded yesterday in the Prime Minister's Office, the suspicion mounted that something was amiss. The prime minister was articulate, enthusiastic and smiling, but his smiles looked as if they were concealing a cruel truth.
Either he was plying damaged goods that made him have to insist that they were nothing less than perfect, or the goods really were really as he said, but he and his staff know that at the end of the day, there will be no takers. Whatever the truth, what stood out was Netanyahu's enthusiasm for making the sale, now, under pressure - pressure from the street.
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