An Orphaned, Homeless Fight

Without a political leadership to channel energy to action the protest might stay in the tents, exposed to any populist governmental wind that may carry it off and appropriate it.

As soon as the first protest tents were pitched on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard last week, it was clear the warmest embrace of the protesters would come from Benjamin Netanyahu.

Just like the Carmel forest fire gave him a marvelous chance to market the supertanker - the neo-homeless gave him the ideal setting for promoting the real estate "revolution."

tent city housing price protest - 16.7.11
Daniel Bar-On

Netanyahu's reform, with its dizzying acceleration of procedures and massive unfreezing of land assets, is highly problematic.

The plan is bad not only because it damages the landscape, and destroys the necessary balance between city and village, and between dense high-rise construction and more spread-out building - but also because, as part of the unbridled stampede of the market, it could actually aggravate the ills that grew the real-estate bubble.

Instead of resolving a severe shortage, it may make entrepreneurs, contractors and speculators richer, and make the chances even more remote for average citizens to secure reasonable housing.

But Netanyahu and his government care more right now about leveraging the protest for political benefit, to thwart any chance that the current wave of embitterment, which began to rise around the cottage cheese and is growing around the housing issue, will spur the opposition to do some serious thinking.

They shouldn't worry: The only opposition they face is diluted and diffuse. And even the tiny core of the ideological left that can clearly see the links between the boycott, Nakba, citizenship and admissions committees laws, and the problems related to housing, education, health and welfare - even it can't find a political home or a proper leadership. The Meretz MKs and Hadash's Dov Khenin came to support the protesters, but their solidarity is seen as self-evident and class-based. And, as expected, Housing Minister Ariel Atias - who ostensibly represents the common stratum of society, but does not, in reality - criticized the protesters for not wanting to live in the periphery.

Atias, like Netanyahu, is probably acquainted with the data and knows that between 2000 and 2006, nearly 54,000 people immigrated from the periphery to the center; that's the population of several peripheral towns combined. Many were forced to leave because of a government policy that Netanyahu refined into an art: On the one hand, he encourages the judaization of the Galilee and spends lavish funds on settlements in the Jordan Valley and the rest of the West Bank; on the other, he dries up the budgets of local councils in Israel proper, and blocks development plans for affordable housing in the center of the country.

The tent protest is, therefore, orphaned and homeless. Without a political leadership to gather the great energies it contains, to link it to other protests and forge a political power - it just might stay in the tents, exposed to any populist governmental wind that may carry it off and appropriate it.