Last updated: 25 July, 2011

Netanyahu delays Poland trip over housing protests

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed a trip to Poland scheduled for this week, his office said in a statement on Monday, as protests over high housing costs spread across Israel.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told his Polish counterpart he will be postponing his visit to Warsaw to another date because he wants to stay in Israel to promote a law dealing with housing market reforms,” it said.

Netanyahu’s office said the premier would also be staying behind to promote “specific steps to help students, discharged soldiers and young couples,” who have taken to the streets to protest against their lack of housing options.

Netanyahu’s trip and itinerary had not been officially announced, but he was expected to visit Warsaw this week to ask Poland to vote against a Palestinian bid for United Nations membership this September, Israeli media reported.

But in recent days, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to march in demonstrations and set up tent cities protesting at the high cost of housing throughout the Jewish state, especially in its major cities.

The protests have captured local media attention and been the subject of passionate debate in parliament.

Since 2004, Israel’s economic growth rate has averaged 4.5 percent, while unemployment has fallen to around six percent from close to 11 percent over the same period.

But public disgruntlement is growing, fuelled by almost-daily revelations of social inequality, injustice and corruption.

A consumer boycott of cottage cheese launched recently on Facebook quickly led to a fall in prices of the Israeli staple, a success cited by some protesters supporting the housing price demonstrations.

Aware of voters’ concerns, Netanyahu has pledged to address the housing problem by streamlining planning and building procedures and promoting low-rent accommodation, and he has called on his cabinet to present him with additional measures that can be taken to ease the high cost of accommodation.