housing - David Bachar - August 3 2011
DUCK AND COVER: Dudu Geva’s famous duck statue in Tel Aviv’s Masryk Square joining the tent protests Monday afternoon. Photo by David Bachar
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Housing protest activists are planning to step up demonstrations in advance of a final vote by the Knesset today on a bill that would establish national housing committees empowered to expedite the planning of residential projects.

The protesters have demanded that the legislation to establish the committees, referred to in Hebrew by their acronym "vadalim," be scrapped. Some roads are expected to be blocked by demonstrators today.

"As a goodwill gesture, we expect the prime minister not to introduce the vadalim law in the Knesset," the chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students, Itzik Shmuli, said yesterday.

Shmuli said that the protesters were united in their opposition to the housing committee legislation and are calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to withdraw it from the Knesset's agenda.

He added that the protesters were ready to engage in discussion with the prime minister, believing this is the only chance for their demands to be met.

The protest movement's leadership published guidelines yesterday to which various segments of the movement have agreed, providing them with a stance from which they could enter talks with the government. In addition to the withdrawal of the national housing committee legislation, their demands include reduction of indirect taxes; investment of surplus tax receipts for the benefit of Israel's citizens; increased mortgage and rental assistance budgets in the Housing and Construction Ministry; extension of the law on free education to include child care for children from the age of 3 months; additional personnel slots, patient beds and equipment for the health-care system; a halt to the privatization of social welfare and psychiatric institutions; and a gradual elimination of outsourcing to manpower agencies by the public sector.

Responding to suggestions that the demonstrators around the country have been motivated by a left-wing political agenda, Shmuli said: "Two-hundred thousand people in town squares are not left wing or right wing. They are not bizarre. They're not sushi eaters or water-pipe smokers. They are people like me and you who want to see a better Israel here."

Earlier in the day yesterday, leaders of the tent protest movement from around the country met at Tel Aviv University for about eight hours. The participants decided to set up an official organization with representation from every tent encampment. The protest leadership came in for criticism for closing the meeting to the media, in what some saw as inconsistent with the policy of transparency that the protesters are demanding of the government. Organizers said it was necessary to allow participants to speak freely.