'Our Children Have No Future'

Protests erupt in Tel Aviv's Rabin square against high cost of living; local Israelis joined by MKs, actors in public outcry.

Tova Dvorin,

Protests in Rabin Square, Jan 18 2014
Protests in Rabin Square, Jan 18 2014

Hundreds poured into Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Saturday night to protest the high cost of living in Israel's largest city, according to Calcalist.

Calling the protest another "social justice" campaign - a la similar campaigns in 2011, 2012, and 2013 - protestors called on public figures to help put a face on the fight for lower expenses, including MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and actor Moshe Ivigy. 

A stage at the protest bore a banner reading "The people want social justice - now" as picketers waved signs calling the government "ruler of the capital underworld," telling Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that "your methods don't work!," and declaring that "a house is not a luxury." 

Abie Binyamin, who works in Israel's lucrative hi-tech industry and helped organize the protest, explained, "after we marched through the streets in 2011, a committee was established to resolve the issues raised [then]."

Binyamin lamented that the committee has not been able to solve the problems; instead, the situation has worsened. "Housing prices have risen, the cost of living has reached new heights, poverty has increased and social inequality has widened. Even I, as a hi-tech professional, cannot see how I can grow old with dignity in my country." 

Professor Yossi Yonah agreed. "The grace period given to the government has long since passed," he stated. "In the meantime, the government's economic agenda has become even more nasty and cruel. The Prime Minister hid his money in a tax haven [. . .] the government could lead a better and more just economic policy." 

Professor Yonah refers to news revealed last week that Netanyahu kept an offshore bank account from 1999-2003, dodging national taxes and reaping other economic benefits. The matter is currently pending an internal investigation. 

MK Ilan Gilon spoke on the massive stage, in a move which briefly turned ugly after he clashed with members of the HaLo Nehmadim (lit. "Not nice") movement, which aims to stop the government's involvement in regulating housing prices and reduce the socioeconomic disparities in Israeli society, according to the movement's Facebook page. Activists from the group were apprehended by police forces before Gilon was allowed to speak.

Once onstage, Gilon stated, "Israel needs a Prime Minister who makes better financial decisions - and a Finance Minister who is not [just] a sweet-talker. Israel has been kidnapped by the banks, the real estate market and the insurance companies." 

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) was also at the protest, where she stated that the government's economic policies constitute "a political underworld." 

CNBC recently noted that the real estate prices in Israel are building toward an unprecedented bubble, rising nearly 40% since 2009. Government officials have been scrambling to fix the housing crisis, which has left many young couples living with their parents or scraping by to pay inflated rent.

One solution has been to impose double property tax on empty apartments - an estimated 47,000 units - in order to discourage foreign vacationers from taking up much-needed rental space.