Tent city - Motti Kimchi - July 2011
Protest tents against housing shortages and high rent prices on Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv. Photo by Motti Kimchi
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Organizers of Israel's housing protest called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to engage in direct dialogue with them, blaming him for dismissing the people's demands.

Israel's housing protest has been gaining momentum over the last few weeks. Some 150,000 demonstrators took to the streets on Saturday, and a top treasury official resigned on Sunday, raising questions from leading commentators over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ability to ride out a revolt by the middle class.

During a press conference assembled by the housing protesters in Tel Aviv's tent city on Rothschild Boulevard, the organizers said that Netanyahu must engage in direct and transparent discussions with the Israeli public, and not via government ministers. In transparent, the protesters mean that they require the negotiations be recorded and made public.

"Netanyahu must answer two basic demands: cancel the housing committees’ law, and to hold transparent discussions with the public in order to allow a real public debate on this subject for the first time," said one of the organizers.

The Knesset is in the process of passing a national housing committee bill, which would allow extensive and expedited approval of construction plans for residential housing.

 

Another organizer commented on Netanyahu’s response to protester demands. “The prime minister is trying to frighten the public, by claiming that social justice will cause economic collapse,” he said, “He should open his eyes and understand that the collapse is already here. It is the economic system itself that had collapsed. It is this collapse that had brought the people to the streets in protest, here and now.”

Yet another protest leader said that the government must immediately get involved in the housing market. She said they would like to see fair housing for all, achieved by the construction of public housing projects, in addition to government oversight over the rentals market.

The protesters are no longer limiting themselves to housing-related issues. They are also demanding a nation-wide free and egalitarian public school system from birth to matriculation, and government-backed financial aid for academic studies for those who need it.

The protesters also expressed their support for the doctors' protest saying all their demands are justified.

Though Netanyahu's broad-based, conservative governing coalition should keep him in office until the next election in 2013, polls show his personal approval rating has been plummeting.

Addressing his cabinet Sunday morning, Netanyahu voiced sympathy for the protesters but added, "It is incumbent upon us to avoid irresponsible, hasty and populist steps that would be liable to drag the country down to the situation of certain countries in Europe, which reached the point of bankruptcy and mass unemployment."