Housing protest - AFP - July 30, 2011
Israelis march in the center of Tel Aviv on July 30, 2011. Photo by AFP
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday dismissed a growing nationwide protest movement over the spiraling cost of living in Israel as "a populist wave [that] is sweeping the country."  

His comments came shortly after lawmakers passed a controversial housing bill that will see the establishment of national committees to approve new housing projects, a move that angered leaders of the housing protest movement. In response, the activists said new protests will take place in the coming days, culminating in a mass rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday - the third such protest in as many weeks.

Netanyahu said solutions to the crisis must be sought "while maintaining our free and dynamic economy." He added that "we need to fix real things on the ground… I am listening, but we need to fix them without cutting down the tree or drying it out. We need to do it responsibly."

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni criticized Netanyahu, saying his government is indifferent to the protesters' grievances. "This is not the cry of the poor, it's the cry of the just," she said. "Stop trying to use some anarchists and draft-dodgers to stain the protesting majorities, those who serve, those who contribute, those who work hard, those who are willing to die for their country and are now fighting for its identity."

The chairman of the National Students Union, Itzik Shmuli, said that the government's approval of the housing law "defied the public and choked the chance for trust and dialogue."

Protesters on Wednesday blocked roads in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Be'er Sheva and Kiryat Shmona. New protest tents were established in Tiberias and Taibeh.