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The Schmooze

Young Israelis Camp Out for Housing Reform

Israelis traditionally fill their city squares during warm summer nights. This week, young Israelis in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities are doing just that — but they’re not going home at the end of the night.

Israel’s “cottage cheese revolution,” having spurred a number of economic protests, has now led to a young people’s revolt against the high cost of housing. The National Students Union has joined with other young citizens’ groups and individuals in a mass camp-out demonstration on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard begun by a young woman named Daphni Leef.

At first, it seemed that the young people were decrying the fact that housing prices were too high in hip Tel Aviv, where so many students and young professionals wish to live. Young people had also slept in sleeping bags in Zion Square in downtown Jerusalem last Friday night.

But now that the tent compounds are springing up around the country in locations such as Beer-Sheva in the south and Kiryat Shemona in the far north, as well as in the more centrally located Kfar Sava and Netanya, it is clear that young people all over the country feel similarly about the scarcity of housing and its rising cost.

The atmosphere at the Tel Aviv site was reportedly festive at first, but it soon turned more serious — and combative — as participants, supporters and visiting politicians began debating policy options for ameliorating the situation. While Opposition MKs such as Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and Dov Khenin (Hadash) were warmly welcomed by crowd, some Likud MK’s from the country’s governing coalition were booed when they showed up. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai had beer poured on him, and his deputy, Assaf Zamir, was pelted with eggs.

The protesters claim there are no lack of suggestions and proposals for bringing rental and purchase prices down, but rather a lack of will to do something about the problem. Many would like to see the government intervene in the housing market by legislating caps on rental fees and requirements for contractors to set aside a certain amount of affordable housing units.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who lives the well-appointed PM’s residence (next door to the Gilad Shalit vigil tent) has invited the protesters to pull up stakes at their tent cities to come to Jerusalem to help him pass housing reform legislation. According to him, supply doesn’t currently meet demand because of that famous Israeli phenomenon known as “bureaucratia.”

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