Local Elections 2008 / Keeping Haifa's Youth Is Election Issue Again

The backdrop for the photos for this article was selected by the chairman of Tzeirei Haifa, Shai Abu-Hazeira: the Hof Hacarmel train station. He wanted the train to Tel Aviv to be the metaphor for his call to stop the drain of young people from Haifa to Tel Aviv.

Young people have become a central plank in the platform of almost every candidate in Haifa's upcoming municipal elections. The chairman of another movement, Mahapach, and its candidate for mayor of the bayside city, Yaakov Borovsky, placed a young person in the third slot on his list. That is no surprise considering that, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, between 2002 to 2006 Haifa lost an annual average of approximately 1,000 young people (ages 20 to 34) to other cities. "Haifa has the university and the Technion that attracts young people from all over the country. And yet, most of the people I went to school with left Haifa for the center," Abu-Hazeira, 27, who is a former chairman of the Haifa student union, said.

The biggest problems Haifa's young people face are a lack of jobs and and a limited cultural and night life. And although 30,000 young people live in the city, they make no impression on the city; even campus life is considered by many to be dull.

An initiative of Mayor Yona Yahav to turn the older lower city into a center of student life is still incomplete and remains untested. "Meanwhile, it's dangerous to be there at night. We say young people don't feel part of the city," Lior Greenberger, a candidate for the Tzeirei Haifa list, says. He added that the city should give grants to students to live in the center-city Hadar neighborhood.

Young activists of the Tzeirei Haifa list can be seen every day in the busy center of the Mercaz Hacarmel neighborhood on top of Mount Carmel seeking signatures on petitions calling for more young people to serve on the city council. "We stay in touch with them so they come and vote for us," Abu-Hazeira says of those who stop by to sign. "You don't see young people on the streets or in cafes, even though this is Mercaz Hacarmel and it should be full of young people."

Haya Zislovich, 52, also signed the petition. "My daughter got out of the army and she wants to leave for Tel Aviv. I want her to work and build her life here," Zislovich says.

Yossi Lehem is a Haifaite who moved to Tel Aviv about four months ago, mainly because he found work there in high-tech after six months of looking and not finding a job in Haifa. "Tel Aviv allows me to move ahead and Haifa stops my career," he says.

However, Yahav says there are about 3,500 high-tech job slots now waiting to be filled in Haifa. But Lehem counters this claim: "There's no variety of positions. If you're not a software engineer, there's no jobs," he says. As for the lack of night life, he adds, "there's no supply because there's no demand because people go out of town."

Borovsky says he went into politics when he realized how high the rate of outbound migration from Haifa was. "Haifa is a city without an economy, as seen by the decline in the value of housing. There's no new construction in Haifa and there are problems with housing for young people," he says.

Still, a survey published by The Marker shows that Haifa is in high demand for renters because the value of real estate is about 40 percent lower than in other major cities.

"Yahav and I disagree on the definition of the problem and therefore there's a difference in the solution," Borovsky says. If elected, he wants to get the city to fund tuition and housing for students. "Haifa does not admit there's a problem with young people. The city has to declare an emergency regarding young people," Abu-Hazeira says.