Knesset Approves Controversial Housing Bill Over Protest Leaders' Objections

Hundreds block roads in major cities to protest bill which will set up national committees to approve housing projects.

The Knesset passed a controversial housing bill on Wednesday, despite the objections of leaders of the housing protest movement that has been gaining momentum across the country in recent weeks.

The bill, which will slash red tape for construction by setting up national committees to approve new housing projects, was passed by a vote of 57 to 45. Netanyahu has strongly promoted the bill as the solution to the housing crisis.

Hosuing protests August 3, 2011 (Emil Salman)
Emil Salman

Hundreds of protesters blocked major roads in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva on Wednesday to protest the bill.

Netanyahu decided to bring the bill to a vote on Wednesday, the day before the Knesset is set to break for its summer recess.

The chairman of the National Students Union, Itzik Shmuli, said on Tuesday that all groups in the housing campaign opposed the bill.

Shmuli's sentiment was reflected in the objections that opposition MKs presented on Tuesday over the bill, harshly criticizing Netanyahu's economic policies.

"The protesters' demand that the housing committees bill be taken off the table is not for nothing," said MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), adding that the bill "offers a quick way to approve construction projects - one single committee deciding, giving the shortest possible time for objections so that it will be impossible to oppose projects."

"One single committee will decide to rezone, increase buildings' size and build as much as it wants."

MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) said: "The land privatization called the Israel Lands Administration reform ... [is] all part of a plan to privatize the country and distribute it to the wealthy."

MK Zahava Galon (Meretz) stated, "According to Central Bureau of Statistics data, half of all government construction in the past decade was in the northern West Bank, and no government investment was made in the Tel Aviv area."