tent city housing price protest - 16.7.11
Tel Aviv’s ‘tent city’ over the weekend. Renters are still waiting for the property reform Prime Minister Netanyahu promised. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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The "tent city" protest against high housing prices that began last week in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is to expand this week to other venues around the country.

The National Students Union, which has joined the protest, said the tent encampments will go up at Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, at Ruppin Academic Center, located near Netanya, as well as at Beit Berl College, near Kfar Sava, and at IDF Square in Kiryat Shmona.

The student organization called on branches at institution of higher education throughout Israel to join the demonstrations for affordable housing despite the fact that students are deep into studying for and taking final exams.

Hundreds of people, most of them young, visited the tent compound at the northern end of Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard over the weekend. Organizers said its residents would remain through this coming week.

Daphni Leef, who initiated the protest, said she was pleased with the turnout and public support and that this was only the beginning.

What began last week like a summer festival, with people strumming guitars, singing and drinking beer into the wee hours, turn more serious over the weekend. People gathered in groups to debate how to make housing affordable for young people and to listen to academics and real estate professionals.

"There are endless proposals that we know of and hear about from experts," Jonathan Levy, one of the protesters, said. "This is not some academic discourse; it is practiced in municipalities all over the world," he said.

Proposals were suggested for local and national government intervention in the real estate market to bring down prices, including passing laws to limit rental fees and requiring contractors to allocate a certain percentage of any project to affordable housing.

Politicians also showed up at the tent site, although some received a very chilly reception. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was repeatedly interrupted as he addressed the crowd on the first night of the protest, and left after a protester poured beer on him.

Deputy Mayor Assaf Zamir, who represents a young people's party on the city council and who had helped the protesters obtain their permit, left after someone threw an egg at him.

MK Miri Regev (Likud) told protesters she had sponsored a rent restriction bill, but the crowd booed her because Likud heads the governing coalition. Regev called one protester "dumb" and accused the demonstrators of being leftist extremists.

Opposition MKs Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and Dov Khenin (Hadash ) were welcomed more warmly. Horowitz, who spent several hours at the site, said the protesters were "the new homeless" created by the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

"These are young, educated people with good-paying jobs but who have no chance of being able to buy an apartment," Horowitz said. He added that while there were many possible solutions to the lack of affordable housing, "Netanyahu was blocking them all."

Labor MK Isaac Herzog, who was also warmly welcomed, came to the Tel Aviv tent city together with community activist Yamin Suissa, who created a tent city movement in the 1980s.

The head of the Ben-Gurion University student union, Uri Keidar, said: "Unfortunately, the situation for young people in the south is becoming more and more similar to the housing crisis in the center of the country. We're not there yet, but we have no intention of getting there," Keidar said.

Protesters said they had received a letter from the leaders of Spain's M15 protest movement, which two months ago brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets to protest the country's high unemployment and high housing prices. "What we did is similar to what you are doing this very moment," the letter said.