Last updated: 3 August, 2011

Israel uprising activists enraged by housing bill

Activists from Israel’s social protest movement reacted furiously on Wednesday after parliament passed a housing bill that they say will favour the rich and endanger the environment.

News site Ynet said that hundreds of demonstrators blocked intersections in cities across the country, ranging from the southern desert city of Beersheva to Kiryat Shmona in the far north. Others stopped traffic in downtown Tel Aviv.

Public radio said that protesters blocked a total of 10 major junctions nationwide and that police had arrested four people for obstruction.

Movement leaders are calling for mass protest rallies to be held on Saturday.

Parliament’s website said that the government-sponsored bill to streamline planning and building formalities passed by 57-45 votes.

“The state of Israel today opened the taps for all those thirsting for accommodation at a reasonable price,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the vote.

“The act will fast-track thousands of apartments and bring down prices.”

But opponents of the law, including much of the protest movement that has shaken the country in recent weeks, fear it will mainly encourage big developers to build luxury projects rather than affordable housing.

Green campaigners also say that streamlining planning procedures could result in construction without proper environmental safeguards.

Delegates from the various groups involved in the cost-of-living campaign continued working on Wednesday to draw up a common list of demands from the government on issues including affordable housing, taxation, child care and reforms to health and education.

“We agreed on taxes, and discussions will continue on Wednesday over our demands on health and education,” student union leader Itzik Shmuli told army radio.

The Jerusalem Post newspaper published a poll on Wednesday saying that if a “social party” representing the protest movement were to enter politics it could win 20 of parliament’s 120 seats and become the second-largest party, with Netanyahu’s Likud projected to take 22.

The survey was conducted by Smith Research Institute with a sample of 500 people and a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

The protest movement has snowballed since it leapt last month from a call on Facebook onto the streets of Tel Aviv and across the country, tapping into deep frustration over the cost of living and income disparity.