In Haifa this morning, demonstrators blocked a major thoroughfare. The same happened in Tel Aviv, leading to scuffles with the police. In Jerusalem, law enforcement clearred protestors who were blocking all approach to the Knesset, arresting five young activists. The men and women taking to the streets are, for the most part, beginners when it comes to civil disobedience. Together with tens of thousands of their peers, mostly young Israelis in their 20s and early 30s, they have organized to protest the escalating costs of apartments in Israel’s main metropolises.
They have a point. A single room in a Tel Aviv apartment can go for as much as 3,000 shekels, or nearly $900, a hefty price for most young and struggling Israelis. The situation isn’t much better in Jerusalem, and only slightly more reasonable in Haifa and Be’er Sheva. The movement was able to recruit vast numbers in a short period of time—is there anything more visceral than real estate?—making this one of the most tempestuous moments in Israeli political history. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, no stranger to crises, cancelled his upcoming trip to Poland to try to assuage angry voters.
But Bibi has little to worry about. Despite the prognostications offered by some Israeli pundits, this isn’t Israel’s Tahrir Square moment. And the reason why is politics. “Politics,” for young Israelis of my generation, has come to mean something filthy and tainted. Theirs, the new movement’s leader insist daily, is not a “political” movement. To them, housing resides in some more high-minded sphere that has nothing to do with Israel’s polices here on earth. They are wrong.
As Israeli peace activist Dror Etkes noted in Haaretz, the government initiated the construction of about 20 percent of all new housing units built in Israel between 1994 and 2009. During the same time period, however, the government was responsible for building 48.4 percent of all residential units in the settlements. Do the math: The government cares twice as much about building homes for settlers as it does about housing young Israelis in Israel. This is particularly true when it comes to Tel Aviv: Between 2006 and 2009, not a single unit of public housing was erected in what is for many the country’s most desirable market.
Israelis enraged about the cost of housing, then, shouldn’t block roads in Haifa and Jerusalem. They should block roads in Bet El and Ofra and Kedumim and Ariel and the other settlements that continue to receive wildly disproportionate chunks of taxpayers’ money. Nobody can escape politics. And those who try are doomed only to lose at it.