Opinion |

Netanyahu Thinks All Israelis Can Afford an Apartment

The prime minister told an audience in northern Israel last week that he always asks other world leaders about their country’s real estate market, showing just how out of touch he is with his own citizens.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the audience at the event promoting northern Israel, Ma'alot Tarshiha, December 26, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the audience at the event promoting northern Israel, in Ma'alot Tarshiha, December 26, 2016.Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO
Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech last week, in which he told young people to buy apartments in the Galilee before prices skyrocket (repeating a message he told people in the south a few years earlier to “buy apartments in Dimona, in Yeruham”), was surprising not only because of its absurd content, but also because of the way it was expressed.

Can it be that a premier, who (also) promises a supertanker to solve the housing crisis, stands at a state event laughing his head off and – like a real estate agent at a weekend seminar – tells the audience a joke that only he laughs at? Can that be right? This man, who takes himself so seriously?

Maybe he was laughing at his invention of how he talks with other world leaders. According to Netanyahu, he always asks them about gross domestic product, what the deficit is, etc., “like a doctor measuring blood pressure,” and then comes the big question: “I ask them how much a square meter costs.”

Really funny. A prime minister in a country whose citizens are concerned about the housing problem might ask his host about, say, public housing and affordable housing, or be interested in how their planning incorporates transportation, health and welfare. But our prime minister is interested in the price of real estate, and when he hears that prices in the host country are lower than those of Dimona, he beams with joy: Startup Nation is once again victorious!

Maybe the astonished faces in the audience were what made him laugh (and that included his bodyguards, who always hear everything and stay submissively silent). Perhaps some of the people in the front row, who are in the top 5 percent of earners, rubbed their hands with glee – after all, nearly a quarter of that group got the message a long time ago and bought two apartments. But besides them, most of the people there were losers, who did not heed Netanyahu’s real estate advice the last time and certainly were not going to listen to it now.

These are the people who barely have enough money to make ends meet every month, who are not sure whether they’ll be fired in a week’s time, and who have no idea how they’ll pay for their kids’ dental care or the after-school activity they’re dreaming about. They actually understand that buying an apartment is the most profitable thing there is. But where will they get the first 500,000 shekels ($130,000) and then ensuing 2,500 shekels a month, when their average monthly income is 9,327 shekels – or, in terms of the median wage, 6,707 shekels, with two children and extra payments at school and afternoon day care? And when the apartment they’ll buy will be, at best, in some neighborhood where there’s no infrastructure or public transportation?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the audience at the event promoting opportunities in northern Israel, Ma'alot-Tarshiha, December 26, 2016.Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO

Maybe Netanyahu laughed when he remembered how he abandoned the pension funds to the wealthy, which gave another boost to real estate purchases as savings for the future, and made apartments even more expensive. Or maybe he couldn’t contain his joy when he remembered how successful he himself is in real estate, with the apartment in Jerusalem’s upscale Rehavia neighborhood, the villa in Caesarea and the magnificent Arab house that he inherited half of.

But what probably made Netanyahu laugh most was his feeling that, like his new role model in the United States, he’s not an elected official at all but a star in a show called “The King Said.” In it, our king spits in the face of his subjects, pits them against each other and crushes any show of solidarity between them. Netanyahu is sure he is in charge of this comedy show, but he is wrong. Like many before him, he might suddenly find himself facing a mass uprising that will deteriorate into extremism, which will cause us to long for the current era.

This horror can only be stopped by one thing: leadership that, instead of mocking its citizens, ensures that they have homes and restores their lives and dignity.