Protesters Block Traffic Across Israel After Controversial Housing Vote

Posted August 3rd, 2011 at 12:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Activists in Israel's social protest movement are reacting with anger after parliament passed a controversial bill Wednesday that opens the way for national committees that would approve future housing projects.

Demonstrators blocked intersections in cities across Israel after the vote, from the commercial capital of Tel Aviv to Be'er Sheva in the south and Kiryat Shmona in the north. Protesters also are calling for large demonstrations on Saturday.

Critics say the new housing bill favors the rich. Many protesters have been urging the government to create cheaper housing.

While addressing the Knesset Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried, what he called, “populism” sweeping across the country, saying the solution to the economic situation must maintain a free market. His supporters maintain that the new law will drastically shorten the planning and building process.

Thousands of Israelis have been protesting what they see as a widening gap between the country's rich and poor. The movement began nearly two months ago and has been dubbed the “Middle Class Revolution.”

In the largest protest to date, tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in cities across the country on July 30 to protest the skyrocketing price of housing, food and gasoline. Some protesters also have been living in tent camps as part of their effort to press the government for cheaper housing.

A modest apartment in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv can cost $500,000, yet the average salary in Israel is about $2,500 a month. Teachers and civil servants typically earn less than $2,000 a month.