Last updated: 3 October, 2011

Israeli cabinet discusses economic reforms

Israel’s cabinet on Monday began discussing a raft of economic reforms intended to address nationwide frustrations over the cost of living and income disparity in the Jewish state.

The reform proposals are the work of a committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year, as Israelis took to the streets in record-breaking numbers to express their frustration about the economic situation in the country.

The government had been due to vote on the recommendations on Monday, but the vote was delayed after several ministers complained they had not been given enough time to examine the proposals.

The committee, headed by respected economist Manuel Trajtenberg, delivered its 267-page report containing recommendations on housing, competitiveness, social services, education and taxation just a week ago.

Speaking at the start of the meeting, Netanyahu said the document contained vital reforms.

“The citizens of Israel should know that today we are changing the national priorities,” he said.

“We are making many social improvements that will benefit the citizens of Israel, but we are doing so responsibly.”

As the cabinet discussed the reforms, the remaining activists at a protest tent city in Tel Aviv were dismantling their encampment.

The social movement that prompted the establishment of the Trajtenberg committee began in mid-July, when young people angry at the cost of housing in Tel Aviv pitched tents in the middle of an upscale neighbourhood to express their frustration.

The tent protest quickly mushroomed, with dozens of similar encampments popping up in towns and cities across the country.

The movement won widespread support, staging weekly demonstrations that eventually attracted hundreds of thousands of Israelis, breaking records in the Jewish state and captivating the local media.

But after a massive rally of some 450,000 people on September 3, the movement’s leaders announced they would begin dismantling the tent cities, seeking to pressure the government through other means.

By late morning on Monday, the final few tents on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard had been removed by the activists.

Earlier, protesters at another Tel Aviv tent encampment were evicted by police, who detained two people for disrupting order, a police spokesman said.

The leaders of the social movement have criticised the reforms proposed by the Trajtenberg committee for failing to meet their demands.

Shortly after the report was submitted to Netanyahu, activist Daphne Leef warned that the people would take to the streets at the end of October if “real” reforms were not announced.

“Prime minister, you have one month in which to announce real and serious solutions,” Leef said in a statement.

“On October 29, the eve of the Knesset’s return from recess, there will be another huge demonstration.”