Israeli housing protesters are missing the point
The protesters on Rothschild Blvd. hate privatization and despise the free market. They want the state to continue controlling the land, and don't understand that this is costing them billions.
Saturday night, the Likud party sent its secret weapon to the front lines: Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon. Kahlon spoke sympathetically about the tent protest; he said he understands the demonstrators and identifies with them; he even said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would come up with solutions within four days.
But Kahlon's promises didn't help, and the demonstration in Tel Aviv that night succeeded beyond the organizers' expectations. That's because the housing protest has genuine cause, and the middle class's feeling that the government is simply exploiting it is backed by solid facts.
Let's start with housing. Home prices really have skyrocketed over the past three years. In Tel Aviv, they've gone up 64 percent, to the point where to buy an average apartment, one needs to set aside 143 (gross! ) salaries - 12 years of work. That is insane.
The problem is that the young people on Rothschild Boulevard are objecting to any suggestion that could improve their situation.
The first and most important thing that must be done is to dismantle the Israel Lands Administration. We must get rid of this dinosaur, which is the primary reason for the rise in land and apartment prices. The ILA, an archaic monopoly, controls 93 percent of the country's land and releases it in a miserly fashion in order to get the highest possible price.
Rather than continue this profiteering, the ILA should be forced to sell all the state lands it controls to the public - that is, to privatize the land and turn it into a freely marketed commodity. If the ILA merely announced such a new policy, we would immediately see land prices come down, and apartment prices as well.
But those occupying the tents on Rothschild Boulevard hate privatization and despise the free market. They want the state to continue controlling the land, and don't understand that this is costing them billions.
The second thing that must be done is to reform the planning and construction approval process. Getting plans passed by all the various planning and building committees delays the issuance of building permits by at least two years, which jacks up the price of apartments.
But the Rothschild youth oppose this, too. They like the "green" groups that submit endless objections that these committees must consider, and which keep construction plans tied up for years. This is another factor keeping home prices high.
Another suggestion that would increase the supply of apartments and thus lower their price is to build more high-rise apartment buildings. Why not approve buildings that are 20 to 30 stories high, rather than the eight or nine floors that are currently the norm in residential neighborhoods? Why not give generous building rights to various urban renewal schemes that would allow the construction of apartment buildings 20 to 30 stories high?
But the Rothschild protesters don't like this, either. They say it destroys the urban fabric and increases population density, even though Tel Aviv is far less crowded than, say, London. This is also why they refuse to accept the division of some of Tel Aviv's larger apartments, a process that could add hundreds of apartments to the city almost immediately.
The Rothschild crowd also doesn't want to understand that there's a connection between their support for illegal infiltrators from Sudan and the lack of inexpensive apartments in south Tel Aviv. Once, they could easily have rented a cheap apartment in the Hatikva neighborhood or other areas in the south of the city. Now these apartments are occupied by tens of thousands of migrant workers from Africa, against whom they have nary a word to say.
And what about the link between paving new roads and the price of apartments in Tel Aviv? This is something else the tent-dwellers refuse to understand. They protested the construction of Route 6, which has greatly shortened the distance to and from the "periphery" and allowed many people to live in Yokne'am or Kiryat Gat and work in Tel Aviv. Without this road, Tel Aviv home prices would be even higher.
But if we were to expand the discussion to speak about the heavy burden borne by the middle class overall, we would hit some sensitive spots fairly quickly. Because the ultra-Orthodox population doesn't work, and also gets billions from the government, including subsidized housing. The settlers have gotten particularly cheap housing, wide roads and flourishing towns that cost billions. We have an incredibly high defense budget, which is the result of an unwillingness to come to a diplomatic agreement.
Somebody's got to pay for all this. And the ones who do are the middle class.