Nahum Barnea

Battle of the middle class

Op-ed: Housing, cottage cheese protests emerged as result of dangerous middle class crisis

“An apartment is no cottage,” says one of the placards adorning the tent city at the end of Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. How true and witty. Regrettably, the housing protest is also different than the cottage cheese protest: The problem is real, yet addressing it is much more complicated, and the time required to solve the problem is much longer – it will not be resolved via discounted sales at the supermarkets.


The two campaigns have one thing in common: Both emerged from genuine distress, relating to both economics and morale, in the middle class. The middle class is the spinal cord of Israel’s society. It provides most of its production power, serves in the reserves, pays taxes and builds families. It carries on its back the weaker strata of society and the sectors that possess greater political power. Its stability ensures the stability of the whole of society.


In recent years, the wellbeing of this sector has dangerously eroded. Salaries froze, yet the prices of basic commodities such as food and housing rose wildly. The gap between the middle class and the economic elite grew to scary proportions.


There is no place like Rothschild Boulevard to illustrate this gap: The young people who pitched their tents at the edge of the street would never be able to purchase an apartment in the residential buildings overlooking them, not to mention the luxury towers being built down the boulevard. From a society that sanctifies solidarity we turned into a piggish, greedy and shameless society.


This isn’t Tahrir Square

Israel runs its economy in line with free market principles, and that’s a good thing. The problem is that the political establishment, both nationally and municipally, neglected its roles as regulator and entrepreneur. It is captivated by big money. Powerful lobby groups empty its coffers. It forgot where it came from and who elected it.


The tent city on Rothschild Boulevard looks like a nice summer night event for now. Hundreds of curious residents drop by for a visit. Why not? Access is easy, there’s action, and artists are performing there. The politicians are arriving and submitting to interviews. The media is taking pictures.


For the time being, the protestors have no concrete platform they can rally around. They demand a decrease in housing prices but are not proposing a way to do it. Will it be done through the public construction of affordable apartments? Or by taxing empty apartments bought by foreign investors? Or by boosting tenants’ rights vis-à-vis their landlords and regulating rent prices? Or by drastically improving public transportation to and from peripheral towns? Or by establishment a national commission of inquiry to probe the rising prices of housing?


For the time being they have no elected leadership or orderly organization. They are just like the politicians who drop by for a visit: They have good intentions, but no policy. Their tent city is all about mood. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, mood was enough to prompt a revolution. This is not the case in Habima Square, at the heart of the well-to-do Israel.



פרסום ראשון: 07.17.11, 17:48
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