Knesset Research Center Sounded Alarm in 2008 About Housing Crisis

If the government had been more attentive to warnings in reports and understood the severity of the problem, they may have headed off the largest demonstrations on a social issue the country has seen in recent decades.

Three years before the outbreak of the current wave of protests over the cost of housing, the Knesset's Research and Information Center warned of an impending social backlash as a result of a worsening housing situation. In three separate reports issued by the parliamentary research center, over the past three years, the Knesset research staff also cautioned over what was seen as the absence of strategic planning in the housing sector and a lack of a systematic, long-term perspective on the issue. The center also criticized the lack of coordination among ministries.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz had been more attentive to the warnings in the reports and understood the severity of the problem, they may have headed off the largest demonstrations on a social issue that the country has seen in recent decades.

The first Knesset research center report, which was compiled in March 2008, during the administration of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, warned of the government's failure to take a long-term systematic approach to construction and housing. The report said this was evident in cabinet decisions that were inconsistent with declared government policy and even resulted in just the opposite of the stated goal.

In what appears now to foretell this summer's housing protests, the 2008 report also stated: "The continuation of this trend could result in resentment, continued widening of social disparities and could even encourage emigration from the country." The report concluded that "a reexamination of the government's construction and housing policy is necessary."

The Knesset Economics Committee considered the report and Likud MK Gilad Erdan, who is now the environmental protection minister, then chaired the committee. "Unfortunately," he said at the time, in a reference to the Kadima-led Olmert government,"the government is ignoring the social and demographic time bomb on which all of us are sitting."

In November 2009, the Knesset research center compiled a second report on the housing issue, and this document, too, contained an explicit warning, this time directed at the new government of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Steinitz, warning of a lack of long-term planning on housing issues. "Many government institutions are involved in the housing market," the report stated, "and it appears that there is not sufficient coordination among them. In the absence of a government 'boss' in the house market, government ministries are sometimes pulling in opposite directions."

A year later, in November 2010, the Knesset research center again weighed in on the problem. The same Netanyahu government was at the helm then, and in light of what the report's authors viewed as a worsening problem, the new document repeated, word for word, its warning of the prospect of rising social protest and emigration from the country.