housing crisis, tent city, 29.7.11
A tent-dweller rearranging her protest signs in Tel Aviv. Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov has criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the housing plans he announced this week, saying indirect taxes like VAT and municipal tax were the real culprits doing Israelis in.

“Throwing a few thousand apartments onto the market won’t solve Israel’s housing problem,” Misezhnikov said yesterday. Misezhnikov, whose party Yisrael Beiteinu is a major partner in Netanyahu’s coalition, chalked up the burgeoning tent protests mainly to indirect taxation, which he said was too much for the middle class to bear.

Speaking at a meeting called by Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom to announce his support of a shorter workweek in Israel, Misezhnikov said the solution to the housing crisis “must come from the lowering of indirect taxes including electricity, VAT on products and municipal taxes.”

Misezhnikov said the current government was not to blame for the crisis and noted that opposition leader Tzipi Livni “was a member of almost every government over the past 10 years and did nothing about social issues.”

Misezhnikov said that because life was expensive in Tel Aviv, the tent protest there didn’t bother him as much as protests in outlying areas and the protests by mothers and medical residents.

“This government is stable enough and has enough backing to finish its term and provide solutions,” he said.

Misezhnikov said his party supported extending the weekend to include Sunday, which he said could be “a breakthrough for the middle class.”

Misezhnikov said he welcomed the fact the head of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini, had joined the struggle of the tent protests, “because this person represents hundreds of thousands of workers.”

Meanwhile, no date has been set for an expected meeting between Eini and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, although treasury sources did not rule out a meeting over the weekend.

After Eini told the press Wednesday that the Histadrut would join the housing struggle unless the government negotiated with him, the Prime Minister’s Bureau announced that Steinitz would meet with Eini.

Senior treasury officials said they wanted Eini to help advance the reform of the Israel Lands Administration, but Eini warned that the Histadrut’s involvement would be expensive, and the treasury gave up on Eini’s support.

Treasury sources said Eini bears plenty of responsibility for the rising costs of renting and buying homes. They said that in negotiations with the Histadrut 18 months ago, Eini came out against the idea of raises for the less well-paid public-sector workers relative to better-paid ones. They also said he was against such differential raises for social workers.

Treasury sources said Eini was trying to ride the wave of the protest, even though he had turned his back on every chance he had to improve the workers’ lot.