From the Jerusalem Post

  A growing concern has been spreading in economic, legal and political circles that the Israeli economy is undergoing an accelerated trend of economic concentration, with an emerging small group of families and individuals holding control of so many diverse corporations in different but interacting industries that the trend itself may pose a threat to current and future economic growth. Moreover, the wealth being concentrated may also give a coterie of “tycoons” outsized political clout.

The Jews understand this is a problem!
Why can’t the Christians figure it out?

An Embarrassment of Riches?


  Three-quarters of Israeli-listed companies are controlled by a few families or individuals, a concentration that some warn is a dangerous direction for the economy.
    WHAT WOULD YOU SAY about the economy of a country in which one quarter of all credit extended to businesses in the country is taken by only six business groups? In which 20 business groups control close to half of the total stock market capitalization, and approximately a fifth of all investment instruments are held in companies controlled by only eight people? A growing concern has been spreading in economic, legal and political circles that the Israeli economy is undergoing an accelerated trend of economic concentration, with an emerging small group of families and individuals holding control of so many diverse corporations in different but interacting industries that the trend itself may pose a threat to current and future economic growth. Moreover, the wealth being concentrated may also give a coterie of “tycoons” outsized political clout.

  These concerns have reached the highest levels of government and business circles. A study by Bank of Israel economist Konstantin Kosenko revealed that half of the banks and insurance companies in the country are affiliated with only about 20 families, with the same set of families controlling companies that generate about half of the national Gross Domestic Product.
  The OECD has several times warned of concerns it has regarding economic concentration in Israel, most recently in a report issued in March, in which it stated that the “Israeli corporate governance landscape is characterized by ownership concentration and family control of a significant number of listed companies,” the report said. “Three-quarters of Israeli-listed companies [of a total of 640] are controlled by family or individual interests.”
  In October 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed a task force led by the director general of his office, Eyal Gabai, to study the issue and provide him with a recommended course of action to reduce the concentration of economy-wide control in private hands.
  “The economic concentration in this country is an existential threat,” says Daniel Doron, director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress (ICSEP), a pro-market, public-policy think tank. “It warps the issuance of credit in an egregiously inefficient manner. It is holding back our growth,” he tells The Report, referring to the danger that conglomerates with significant shares in financial institutions may sway those institutions to favor their companies when issuing credit.
  “Concentrated economic power is social and political power,” says Davida Lachman- Messer, a former deputy attorney general.
  “This makes those holding it centers of power. They weren’t elected, but they decide who controls this country and how it looks.”
  Identifying a problem, however, is not the same as solving it, and there is no clear consensus yet as to what should be done, if at all.
  Amir Barnea, an economist at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya who has served as a member of the board of directors of Bank Hapoalim, recommends – among other things – changes to corporate governance laws that will enable the appointment of strong and independent boards of directors of companies.
  “There is currently no effective corporate governance in this country,” complains Barnea to The Report, “nor effective regulation of conglomerates by regulatory bodies.”
  There have also been calls for using tax laws for reducing economic concentration.
  But there are also observers who are convinced that only direct state action to break apart economy-wide conglomerates can have significant effect. “Believing this can be solved solely by amending corporate governance laws is like believing in a fairy tale,” Lachman-Messer asserts flatly. “The only way to deal with this is structural: break up the conglomerates.”
  THE MAP OF ECONOMIC concentration in Israel is well known. The business daily “The Marker” regularly publishes lists of the economically most powerful individuals in the country, identifying in particular Nohi Dankner, Arnon Moses, Sheldon Adelson, Yitzhak Tshuva, Zadik Bino, Haim Saban, Moshe Wertheim, Eliezer Fischman, Yossi Maimon, Shari Arison, Lev Leviev, and Sammy Ofer.
  The concentration of economic control represented by these families and individuals is in particular characterized by two phenomena that observers note make Israel an anomaly among Western-styled economies: The extent to which “pyramidal structures of ownership” of corporations have proliferated, and the broad dispersal across industries of the holdings of the most powerful families and individuals.
  Economists describe pyramid ownership structures as being constructed step by leveraged step, potentially enabling a single individual vast control bought by a relatively small initial investment. It works like this: Suppose you gain control of Company A, holding half its shares. Company A, in turn, buys and holds half the shares of Company B.
  Company B does the same for Company C, then Company D, and finally Company E, a major global corporation. This is a five-story pyramid. Whoever controls the base of the pyramid, Company A, controls all five.
  The fraction of the total company shares you hold is therefore one-half raised to the fifth power, about 3 percent. Yet you control all five businesses. Moreover, by strategically clever leveraging, this can be achieved at relatively small initial expense, with most of the “heavy lifting” conducted by instructing companies at various pyramidal levels to seek corporate credit for profitable acquisitions.
  Several studies indicate that the biggest borrowers in the country are also the wealthiest individuals. According to a study conducted by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center, as of 2009, six of Israel’s biggest business groups, owned by Dankner, Arison, Ofer, Bino, Tshuva and the Bronfman family, had taken 100 billion shekels in credit, which comes to one quarter of all credit extended to businesses in the country. They use this borrowed money to buy controlling interests in companies, enabling them to appoint both the ranks of corporate management and a majority of board members.
  The other significant characteristic of the economic concentration in Israel is the sprawling extent over several industries of each economic empire. To name a few, Tshuva, the principal owner of the Delek Group, an energy company, is also significantly invested in real estate and construction companies, the HOT cable company, and the insurance companies, Phoenix and Menorah.
  Arison, principal owner of Bank Hapoalim, also owns a water technology company and construction company; she also owns Shikun Uvinui, through which she also has significant ownership of Derekh Eretz, the franchise holder of Israel’s only toll road, Route 6. Lev Leviev, the diamond tycoon who divides his time between London and Tel Aviv, owns real estate company Africa Israel, and has significant holdings in energy company Dor Allon and television franchise Channel 9.
  Some of the big-name holdings in the hands of one owner are particularly staggering.
  Dankner, the principal owner of IDB, has used the company as a vehicle for diversifying his economic interests to Clal Life Insurance, Clal Industries and Biotechnology, the Internet provider Netvision, the Supersol supermarket chain, the mobile telephone company Cellcom, the Israir airline company, and the Golf clothing chain – in addition to holdings in construction and cement companies.
  THE TECHNICAL ECONOMIC term for two or more corporations in different industries under single ownership is a conglomerate. The proliferation of sprawling conglomerates in Israel seems at first glance puzzling to economists, who have for decades regarded conglomerates to be “dinosaurs” destined to die out under normal conditions in Western-styled economies.
  Afad for conglomerates in the United States in the 1960s ended with a major sell-off of shares in conglomerates in the 1970s, when they proved to be less profitable than expected.
  Business schools since then have emphasized the importance of focusing on core competency within corporations, in place of over-diversification.
  “Running a conglomerate seems inefficient,” explains Barnea, “since spreading thin over too many industries can lead to lack of focus and lack of specialization. There are also significant overhead costs that need to be taken into account in operating a widespread conglomerate. In most stock exchanges, shares of conglomerates trade at lower values than corporations focused on single industries.”
  Balancing this, however, are some advantages that conglomerates bring. The economies of Japan and South Korea are conglomerate-heavy, characterized by structures that bear some resemblance to the emerging Israeli conglomerates, with interlocking shareholdings tying together companies in disparate industries, and significant interests in financial institutions.
  “With presence in several industries, a conglomerate can obtain synergistic data on consumer preferences that can be used profitably,” notes Barnea. “Profits from a company in one industry can be used to enable a company in another industry to sell at a loss while it drives out competitors by undercutting their prices. Interests that are normally conflicting – such as that between suppliers and buyers – can be harmonized, and sheer size can give a conglomerate clout in both the labor market and in the political sphere.”
  THE ISRAELI CONGLOMERATE holdings may be profitable for their owners, but many economic analysts regard them as ultimately harmful to the overall economy. “A conglomerate merger may facilitate, in particular cases, tacit collusion in certain markets,” David Gilo, an expert in antitrust law and economics at Tel Aviv University, tells The Report. “Suppose that following the conglomerate merger in question, two conglomerates establish presence in the same markets, such as the cellular industry, the construction industry and the supermarket industry. Then a conglomerate that deviates from tacit collusion in the cellular market, if such collusion exists, may be “punished” by the other conglomerate in the construction and supermarket industries.
  Nevertheless, as the economics literature shows, this conclusion depends on the particular facts of the case, since such multimarket contact may also encourage a conglomerate to deviate from tacit collusion in all of the markets at once. Also, in certain cases, when conglomerates operate in several markets that are close enough to each other, a ‘balance of fear’ may discourage them from entering each other’s markets.”
  “If Supersol belongs to the same conglomerate as Cellcom, and Cellcom seeks a way to reach new customers by offering special deals in supermarkets, it will naturally partner with Supersol,” Barnea notes. “What chance have competitors got in this case? There is also a danger that conglomerates will become ‘too big to fail,’ therefore trusting that a government bailout may await them if they get into economic difficulties, and this could lead them to undertake risky projects.”
  “Mergers or transactions between supplier and customer can sometimes harm competition in a relevant market,” agrees Gilo. “For example, a merger between a food producer and a supermarket, a construction company and a bank providing credit, or a telecommunications infrastructure supplier and a mobile telephone company,” he says, pointing out several potential conflicts of interest, “may create at times the foreclosure of rival firms.
  This, however, does not necessarily hinge on the conglomerate structure of companies, but simply on the vertical supplier-customer relationship between co-owned companies.”
  Doron is even more emphatic in warning of the harm caused by the economic concentration in Israel. “It is holding back our growth,” says Doron.
  “There is also a systemic risk: if the big conglomerates fall, they could take with them our pensions, because institutional investors have bought much of the shares in companies owned by the tycoons. And the resulting lack of competition enables tycoons to raise the prices of consumer items by 20 percent to 30 percent, which directly affects the income of every family, especially those in the economically weaker segments of society, who spend most of their budgets on consumer items.”
  Not everyone agrees that there is a problem of overconcentration of power in the economy. Dankner, in a letter sent to senior IDB officials in October of last year, stated that “there is no problem of over-concentration in the economy. To the contrary, the economy is competitive and strong, characterized by good and effective regulation.”
  Dankner quoted from a study conducted by Dr Yaakov Sheinin, the CEO of Economic Models Ltd., a private economic analysis company, and Professor Ephraim Sadka of the Tel Aviv University economics department.
  The study concludes that the extent of economic concentration in Israel is not unusual for the country’s size, and may even be less than the norm. The authors claim that the ten largest economic concerns produce only 8 percent of business production. They also describe the formation of economic control in Israel as a dynamic and fast-changing phenomenon, characterized by greater mobility than in Europe.
  Doron strongly disagrees with this assessment.
  “Relative to the world, in measured central control of the economy, Israel is 118th out of 140 countries,” he says. “That is a very bad position to be in.”

  ONE MIGHT EXPECT A phenomenon of overconcentration of economic power to be a proper subject for antitrust enforcement. But, as Barnea explains, antitrust legislation concentrates on market share within particular industries.
  Antitrust regulators look for companies that have attained such commanding market share that they can single-handedly determine prices. In each particular industry, however, conglomerates manage to operate ‘underneath the radar’ of antitrust laws, building their power precisely by not taking over one particular industry, but by spreading out over several key industries at once.
  “There are also laws that limit mergers and acquisitions,” continues Barnea, “and limiting financial companies from operating simultaneously in several different fields, such as banking and insurance, and restrictions on the formation of cartels. But there is no antitrust legislation that specifically handles economic concentration.”
  Significantly amending antitrust laws to enable regulators to break up conglomerates with a presence in several industries might not lead to immediate results, according to Gilo, because it will take time for a staff of regulators focused on that sort of economic activity to be assembled and to gain experience. “The prevailing antitrust law as it currently is formed is not built to handle economy-wide concentration,” he says, but rather focuses on concentration within specific markets.”

  What else can be done? Barnea advocates amending corporate governance laws, to enable the appointment of strong and independent boards of directors. The Knesset passed an amendment to the corporate code March 3, bolstering the independence of boards of directors and instituting new rules intended to prevent situations in which a minority of shareholders can approve deals favored by controlling interests in companies.
  The tax code has also been suggested as a means of curbing the concentration of power in conglomerates, mainly by a proposed tax on dividends paid between subsidiaries of a single conglomerate, to make interlocking shareholding less profitable. Sheinin and Sadka advocate against such a move, noting that apart from the United States, no country in the world has adopted such a tax, which they characterize as a form of “double taxation.”
  Lachman-Messer is skeptical that any efforts apart from a direct approach to breaking up conglomerates by law will have a significant effect. “Corporate governance laws will not make a difference,” says Lachman- Messer, nor can shareholders be counted on to stop this phenomenon, because many of the shareholders in the conglomerates are institutional – such as pension funds and insurance companies – making use of money invested by the public but controlled by the conglomerates themselves. What is needed is a law restricting the amount of economic control any one individual can concentrate.”
  “The problem not something off in the future,” she adds. “It is a major problem, damaging the economy and civil society. Ultimately, it is bad for democracy, because a small number of people are making decisions for the rest of us."

From the book of Amos
  You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth.
  You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.
  For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.

Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times
for the times are evil.

Over 2500 years later and history is still repeating itself
how many more have to die before the greed stops

From the Book of Nehemiah
  Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. Some were saying, "We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain."
  Others were saying, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine."
  Still others were saying, "We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others."
  When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, "You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: "As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
  So I continued, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them--the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.


Mass protests and tent cities shake Israeli government
August 15, 2011
The Irish Times
  Incensed by low pay, soaring living costs, economic inequality and high poverty rates, people have taken to the streets.
  DAPHNI LEEF is an unlikely revolutionary. The 25-year-old Israeli film school graduate comes from a comfortable, middle-class home and wants to direct movies.
  But last month Leef pitched a tent in the middle of Tel Aviv’s smartest neighbourhood to protest rising living costs, sparking nationwide protests of more than 300,000 demonstrators, rattling the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and turning swathes of Israel’s cities into hippy-style tent communes.
  Some Israeli politicians have dismissed Leef as a spoilt, drug-taking, middle-class fake, but she said the past month had changed her view of her country forever.“People seem driven,” said Leef in an interview near the leafy boulevard where she first pitched her tent. “It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
  “I think people feel it just has to work. We demand social justice. We don’t want to negotiate it. We just want it. I am very proud for the first time in 25 years, genuinely proud, to be a part of this Israeli public,” she said. “I am proud to be here. Proud to fight for the social rights that we deserve. And I am very proud to be a part of such a non-violent uprising. I think it’s unbelievable.
  “We’re fighting for very basic things,” she said. “Being able to keep a roof over our heads, to have a decent education system, a healthcare system, employment and welfare.” Two months ago, Leef received an eviction order from her Tel Aviv apartment. During fruitless weeks searching for a home within reach of her film-editing job she discovered that rents had doubled in five years.
  “I couldn’t find anything in my range. Everything was ridiculously expensive and in a horrible state,” she said.
  “Then I started crunching the numbers. I’m supposed to be the best-case scenario. I’m 25 and I do not have a family to support. I have an occupation. And for some reason I can’t find a way to finish the month without going further into debt.” Leef had read about Hooverville, the tent city in New York’s Central Park during the Great Depression in the 1920s. On Bastille Day, July 14th, she invited her Facebook friends to pitch camp on the grassy, tree-shaded median of the elegant Rothschild Boulevard. Ten people turned up and went to sleep. They awoke to a social revolution.
  “In less than four days we were 1,500 people. By the end of the week we were 5,000,” she said.
  Tent cities sprang up across Israel, accompanied by large, peaceful demonstrations. The protests followed strikes by doctors, social workers and municipal workers over low pay and tough conditions.
  Leef said people were incensed by low pay, the high cost of living and confusion about Israel’s supposed economic boom.
  “If we’re not making money, but the country is, then where does the money go?” she asked.
  At first, the campers were ridiculed by government ministers, but the tents multiplied, questions were raised in parliament and debates erupted on television. Finally, Netanyahu appointed a government committee to negotiate and draft new policies.
  But Leef said she would not be negotiating. “This is not two governments, one against the other,” she said. “You have the people demanding to be treated with respect, for the priorities to change, for the system to change, and then you have the government, the people we elected, who we pay to do their job. Being a film student, I don’t think I should be in negotiation with them. I don’t have the knowledge. I can talk to you from the place where I’m aching from, but I don’t know what’s going on in the budget. I have no clue.”
  Stav Shaffir (26), a graduate student in history and philosophy and one of the original campers, was clearer about possible demands.
  “We feel like the government started a war on its people,” she said, suggesting a tax increase for top earners from 40 per cent to 55 per cent, and a cut in VAT.
  “We want to change the economic system from neo-liberal to a welfare state,” she said.
  This week there were more than 1,000 tents lining Rothschild Boulevard, symbol of Tel Aviv’s recent makeover from dusty backwater to hip vacation destination. Beneath the billboards offering million-dollar holiday homes, next to the sushi and espresso bars, washing lines hung across the cycle path and the grass verge was covered with mattresses and old sofas. There were communal kitchens, blow-up paddling pools and hundreds of posters demanding free education, cheaper housing, more jobs, better transport and social equality.
  Volunteers offered haircuts, legal advice, first aid and childcare. There were tents of religious and secular, Arabs and Jews. People played guitars, smoked water pipes, watched TV on large screens and smooched.
  As a tribute to the Egyptian revolutionaries, the meeting-point where the protesters gather each night to debate, listen and hear visiting lecturers is called “Tahrir Corner”. Leef said she admired the Arab Spring but insisted her aim was to change priorities, not the government.
  “If you’re an elected public official and for a month it just gets bigger and bigger, people screaming out their pain, how can you ignore it?” she said.
  Outside one tent, Dana Turgeman (32), an artist, designer and single parent from Hadera in northern Israel, watched as four-year-old Muoar worked on his colouring book.
  “My rent has just been increased from €500 to €600 per month. By the time I’ve paid for rent and kindergarten and babysitters and food and electricity, my bills are more than twice what I can earn,” she said.
  “I have debts of €20,000. I’ve borrowed from my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles but I’ll never be able to pay them back. I used to think it was just me. Now I know I’m not alone. Something in this country has to change.”
  Since the 1990s, Israel’s economy has been transformed. Rapid privatisation and a high- tech revolution remade Israel as a world leader in information and medical technology. The country sailed through the world economic crisis. Unemployment is below 7 per cent. Last year, the economy grew faster than the United States, Britain, Japan, Germany or France.
  But the new wealth has failed to reach the Israeli middle class. The OECD says Israel’s poverty rate is twice the average of other developed countries, while its welfare and education spending is significantly lower. Thirty-nine per cent of Israelis find it “difficult” or “very difficult” to live on their current incomes.
  Economic reform delivered wealth into a handful of pockets, replacing creaking socialism with cartel-based capitalism. A 2010 report revealed 10 large business groups controlled 30 per cent of the market value of public companies, while 16 control half the country’s money.
  Shaffir said the tent cities were a new beginning.
  “We have built a new society, with schools and kindergartens and lectures and kitchens that serve three meals a day and we’ve even developed a special sign language that allows us to hold discussions and vote with over 100 people at a time,” she said . “It has to work, it must work, and it will work, because this won’t happen for another 10 to 15 years.”
Hundreds of Israeli doctors resign in pay protest
By Maayan Lubell Oct 10, 2011 (Reuters)
  Hundreds of Israeli doctors did not show up for work on Monday after quitting their jobs over a salary dispute, a health ministry official said, and hospitals warned they were on the verge of collapse.
  Hospitals cancelled non urgent procedures, some patients were turned away while others waited hours for treatment. "We won't last more than a day or two like this," Motti Freid a doctor at Tel Aviv Medical Centre told Israeli television.
  "Soon we will be unable to treat thousands of people, including those in danger," Pinny Halperin, head of the emergency unit at Tel Aviv Medical Centre told Israel's Channel One news.
  A health ministry spokeswoman said 700 medical residents --more than a quarter of Israel's resident doctors, handed their notice in over a month ago. A total of 340 of them did not report for hospital duty on Monday and the rest were expected to follow suit this week.
  The government petitioned the court to issue injunctions ordering doctors back to work. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office issued a statement offering some doctors an increase in pay.
  The doctors, who say they are over-worked and under-paid, said they had not yet received an official offer from Netanyahu but that they would study it once they did.
  The doctors' resignation is another sign of social unrest in Israel. Mass protests held under a banner of "social justice" rocked the Jewish state through the summer with hundreds of thousands demanding lower living costs and economic reform.


Housing protests roil Israel as tent cities pop up
By Dina Kraft
July 26, 2011

  TEL AVIV (JTA) -- On Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv’s version of Park Avenue, a burgeoning tent city has sprung up amid crowded cafes and its canopy of ficus trees.
  The squatters are protesting soaring housing prices in the country, and they have galvanized a sudden full-scale national protest, from Kiryat Shemona in the North to Beersheva in the South, that has plunged the government into crisis mode.
  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a planned trip to Poland this week and the interior minister has called for the Knesset to cancel its summer recess. Tent cities are swelling in cities across Israel, protesters are blocking roads and activists have practically besieged the Knesset. On Saturday evening, an estimated 20,000 marchers filled the streets of Tel Aviv calling for affordable housing.
  “For years, Israelis have been like zombies because of the security situation and did not speak out when other areas were ignored, like education and the economy,” said Amir Ben-Cohen, a 30-year-old graduate student camping out on Rothschild Boulevard. “Enough. We are a new generation.”
  Some are hailing the protests as Israel’s version of the Arab Spring. This Israeli Summer movement is being led by university students and young professionals in their 20s and 30s who until now have shown little interest in demonstrations or activism. One sign strung between tents in Tel Aviv read, "Rothschild, corner of Tahrir," a reference to the Egyptian uprising that centered in Tahrir Square.
  With a recent Haaretz poll showing 87 percent of Israelis supporting the housing protesters, their grievances appear to be striking a chord nationwide.
  Like much of the world, Israelis recently have seen cost-of-living metrics rise across the board, especially for food and gas. But unlike in the United States, where real estate prices are in retreat, housing prices in Israel have skyrocketed, on average doubling since 2002.
  With the average Israeli salary at $2,500 a month and modest-sized apartments in Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv area selling for $600,000, many Israelis feel priced out of their own neighborhoods, particularly young people who live in places where there is a dearth of rental properties.
  “What is very troubling for Netanyahu is that this is not a left wing versus right wing protest. It’s one of the few issues that cuts across all political spectrums,” said Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a Bar-Ilan University political scientist.
  He noted that in Israel it’s unusual for socioeconomic issues to take priority over political-security issues.
  Netanyahu “is definitely nervous," Lehman-Wilzig said, "and he should be nervous.”
  Netanyahu, who had identified the shortage of affordable housing as a potential crisis when he came to power in 2009, has been busy scolding his own ministers for not doing enough.
  “Give me ideas for a solution,” Netanyahu was quoted by the Israeli media telling his Cabinet ministers.
  The prime minister announced Tuesday that his government was preparing a battery of solutions, among them plans to reduce bureaucratic hurdles to building new housing projects and measures that would help young people make their first real estate purchases.
  He also promised construction of new student dormitories and the construction of 10,000 two- and three-bedroom units, mostly in central Israel, to be earmarked for young couples, large families and students. Half would be available as rentals.
  Hours after Netanyahu's news conference unveiling his plan, the protest's leaders held their own news conference dismissing the plan as a piece-meal attempt to divide students from other protesters.
  “When he talks about students and discharged soldiers, what about our grandparents? What about the disabled?" said Yigal Rambam. "Every section in Israeli society suffers from the housing problem and there isn’t a general solution here. Any real solution must deal with rental prices, the prices of buying land, public housing and housing assistance."
  Itzik Shmueli, head of the National Union of Israeli Students, said at the news conference that although Netanyahu's plan was "unprecedented" and "historic," it remained insufficient and that the union would continue participating in the protest.
  Experts attribute the vertiginous rise in real estate prices in recent years to a combination of Israel’s small size, relatively high population growth, a strong shekel and an influx of foreign buyers, especially American and French Jews. Demand is strongest in the central part of the country, where most Israelis work and live, though prices in the periphery have risen, too.
  In a country that managed to weather the international financial downturn exceptionally well and where 2011 growth is projected to reach an impressive 5.2 percent and unemployment is at a historic low, many Israelis still feel financially strapped. A significant portion of the nation’s private wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few families, the gaps between rich and poor is wider than ever and poverty rates remain among the highest in the Western world.
  Israeli hospitals and health clinics are in the midst of a doctors’ strike, which followed a large social workers’ strike. Both groups cited low wages as their reasons.
  A boycott last month of cottage cheese to protest rising prices for an Israeli staple appears to have been a symptom of widespread economic discontent that the housing protests also are tapping into.
  “Whereas the street has been relatively quiet in the last 20 years, it’s beginning to wake up and demand part of national wealth that does not seem to be trickling down as much as it should,” Lehman-Wilzig said. “It’s not a call to return to Israel’s socialist past but to a more collective feeling of society as a whole.”
  While young people in particular are finding their voice when it comes to issues that affect their wallet, this segment of society appears less interested in taking to the streets when it comes to ideological issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  The demonstrators have said theirs is a nonpartisan struggle. In interviews, they say they don’t want to interject hot-button political topics like the cost of subsidizing home building in West Bank settlements or for haredi Orthodox families at the risk of alienating would-be supporters of their cause.
  At a protest outside the Knesset on Sunday, Itay Gottler, who heads the student union at the Hebrew University, spoke of a popular movement.
  “This is a struggle that involves secular people, the ultra-Orthodox, religious, Arabs, young people and students,” he said. “This is the struggle of the people.”