The Chairman's Cynicism

Out of the blue, Ofer Eini is demanding a solution to the housing problem as if he had not been involved at all. Is there any bigger chutzpah than that?

Now it's really serious. Ofer Eini, the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, has joined the struggle and presented the prime minister with an ultimatum. "If by Saturday night," Eini said, "Netanyahu does not call a meeting with the Histadrut and the leaders of the social struggle, and does not present a general solution for the middle class and the housing problem, the Histadrut will use all means at its disposal." How scary.

Eini added that once upon a time he could shop at the supermarket for NIS 700, but now prices have doubled. He also announced: "I have ideas and solutions, but there is no doubt that money is needed for that." And that's the word that frightens Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz the most - money.

It's obvious that Eini is not to blame for anything. Not for the rise in housing prices or food prices. But we live here and know the reality. Two years ago, the prime minister correctly diagnosed the housing problem and even proposed three large reforms to deal with the expanding real estate bubble. He proposed a reform of the Israel Lands Administration so that the administration would become a "lands authority" that would flood the market with land for construction. He also proposed a reform and a shortening of the planning and building process, and an improvement of the country's highways and train system so that the periphery would come closer to the center. This way, one could live in the country's outskirts at a reasonable price, and work, study and enjoy oneself in Tel Aviv.

The truth is that Netanyahu tried already in 2004 to carry out this reform at the lands administration, when he was finance minister in Ariel Sharon's government. But Sharon said to him: "This far and no further. The lands administration is mine and don't touch it." That's because the lands administration is big money. The administration decides who will be rich and who will be poor, based on its decisions to turn certain agricultural land into land for commerce or construction. For years, Sharon held onto the lands administration in every position he served in.

But what did Eini do when he realized that apartment prices were spiraling upward and the solution was a revolution at the lands administration? Did he go to the workers' committee there and ask them to lend a hand? Don't make him laugh. Eini was for letting the lands administration go on strike with the aim of destroying the reform. Because Eini always represents the big and strong workers' committees, those whose members have high salaries and secure pensions - not the middle class. And certainly not the lower classes. So over two years nothing moved. Neither a reform nor a flood of land for construction. Apartment prices continued to rise, and the tent dwellers on Rothschild Boulevard are paying the price.

But here, out of the blue, Eini is demanding a solution to the housing problem as if he had not been involved at all. Is there any bigger chutzpah than that?

The example he gave about food prices doubling must also be remembered. The word "doubled" of course is merely a silly form of demagoguery, but it's true that food prices have risen more than average in recent years. One reason is the high tariffs that protect local produce and prevent competition from imports. But Eini is in favor of these high tariffs that push up prices. Eini is also the one who obstructs reforms in key branches of the economy, preventing competition and the lowering of prices. For example, he supports the workers' committee at the Israel Electric Corporation, and this of course affects all prices.

Another reason for high food prices lies with the ports, where not a month goes by without a work stoppage, sanctions or various strange delays. This is the only country where they don't work full time around the clock throughout the year. Only here are there so many sanctions that force ships to wait and be late, so that shipowners have to pay heavy fines of tens of thousands of dollars. And they pass these expenses onto the importers, who pass them onto us, the consumers.

But Eini always unhesitatingly supports these abuses, which help the port workers raise their salaries astronomically. And when wages go up, the port collects more for its services, and this too causes prices to rise.

So now, Mr. Eini, do you understand your contribution to the housing crisis and food prices?