Opinion: Israeli Housing Protests Strike Familiar Tea Party Notes
Monday, August 08, 2011 - 12:00 AM
It may not be as exciting as the freedom movements of some of its neighbors, but Israel has quietly amassed a large protest in the last few weeks which is capturing the imagination of Israelis throughout the country.
Israel is in a strange economic situation. Unemployment is low and businesses seem to be doing well. And yet the middle class feels a squeeze which is pushing them to go into the streets to affect change.
The protests were started by some students a few weeks ago and have grown into tent cities in the middle of Tel Aviv. Hundreds of thousands of people have been turning up all over the country for the past three weeks, but until just a few days ago no one was clear on what exactly the protesters wanted - including the protesters themselves. It was a strange catalyst that brought people to this point - the high price of cottage cheese.
Britain's Guardian newspaper describes the protests as seeking "social change." And perhaps it's true that when you are a hammer everything starts to look like a nail because where they see a protest for social change I see a protest pushing for conservative values not dissimilar from those espoused by the Tea Partiers in the U.S.
Some of the calls the protestors are making:
Lowering taxes: The tax burden in Israel has become such that people who earn good incomes are finding it very tough to make ends meet. Coupled with a spike in housing costs brought on by an influx of foreigners purchasing homes in Israel, the middle class believes that they will never be able to buy their own home, no matter how much money they earn.
Allowing for a free market: Dairy prices, for example, have become exorbitantly high because of a lack of competition and imports.
Cutting spending: A major grievance of the protesters is that their tax dollars go to support the Haredim, that is the ultra-religious people who don't work and are supported by the government to study religion. Additionally, government support of the settlements is a huge issue. People may not oppose the settlements but they don't want to fund them either.
Free people, no matter their political ideologies, will often come back to the idea that they should keep more of what they earn and the government should waste less of what it takes. It doesn't matter if it's a protester in Tel Aviv or Wichita, they're united in their wants to have a better life for their families and to work hard to achieve entirely reasonable goals.
With the news that the U.S. has been downgraded by the S&P because we are drowning in debt, and with unemployment numbers that show no signs of easing, it will be interesting to see if we don't get our own version of these tent cities in the U.S. sometime soon.
Born in the Soviet Union and raised in Brooklyn, Karol Markowicz is a public relations consultant in NYC and a veteran of Republican campaigns in four states. She blogs about politics at Alarming News and about life in the city with her husband and baby at 212 Baby. She can be followed on Twitter.