Israeli Settlers Largely Back Housing Protests but Wary of Left-wing Slant

Settlers agree the burden on the public must be eased, but see current housing protests as an effort by left-wing activists to piggyback on justified grievances in order to promote the broader diplomatic agenda of the left.

After two weeks of front-page headlines about demonstrations over the high cost of housing, Yehuda Shimon - a lawyer from the West Bank Jewish settlement outpost of Havat Gilad - decided on Thursday that the time had come for him to visit Tel Aviv himself for a firsthand look at the tent city on Rothschild Boulevard. As an expert in the never-ending struggle over the unauthorized Havat Gilad outpost, Shimon thought he might be able to learn a thing or two from the Tel Aviv demonstrators.

After surveying the scene, Shimon returned to Havat Gilad disappointed. Calling the protest tent encampment "one big, despicable summer camp," Shimon proclaimed that the tent city was not a genuine protest; his impression was that most of the protesters seemed to have come out of mere summer boredom. "Once the boredom passes, this whole battle will die out," Shimon predicted.

housing protest, police, Tel Aviv - AFP - 31.7.11

Yet even as Shimon spoke, his wife Ilana challenged his remarks.

"The protest is justified," she said. "You can't raise children in this country."

The difference of opinion between Yehuda Shimon and his wife appears to be a reflection of wider sentiments among residents of the West Bank settlements. On one hand, they agree that the burden on the public must be eased. On the other, they see the current housing protests as an effort by left-wing activists to piggyback on justified grievances in order to promote the broader diplomatic agenda of the left.

"I agree with the principles of the protest, but not with the goals of the protest," said Yigal Dimoni, deputy director for information of the Yesha Council of settlements.

The middle class has been hurt in recent years, Dimoni said. "I bear the burden of army reserve duty [and] taxes," he said. "Three years ago, I understood there was a problem."

Dimoni cited an increase in the cost of housing in the settlements, and increased taxation on the value of his leased car. He also noted a shortage of day care centers in the settlements.

However, he said, the protesters are not out to solve problems, but rather they are looking for ways to attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Netanyahu is not my cup of tea," Dimoni stated, "but there is no other goal [than opposition to the prime minister]. There are organizations standing behind [the protesters, but] they're not trying to think about solutions." Powerful left-wing groups have an interest in wearing Netanyahu down before a possible September confrontation at the United Nations over recognition of a Palestinian state, he said. "The parties on the left have neglected society, the economy, the positive sides, and have worked only on a peace agenda," he said.

Uzi Baruch, editor of the right-wing Arutz Sheva website, also challenged the protesters' political slant, arguing that the protests have taken on a radical left-wing tone.

"Many in the religious community are in favor of the protests," Baruch said, "but the protest leaders are making mistake after mistake. They bring in [writers] Meir Shalev and Yoram Kaniuk, who attack the right."