Hardship relief on the cards for Israelis

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 18, 2011
A house-price protester in Tel Aviv

A house-price protester in Tel Aviv

The government committee that was appointed last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come up with a programme to alleviate the financial hardships of Israelis began its work this week.

The committee, headed by Professor Trachtenberg, visited sites in Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva to talk to the protest leaders, and is set to begin its meetings next week.

Meanwhile, a parallel committee of economic and social experts set up by the protest movement also began meeting this week.

Although the protest does not seem to be flagging, with over 20 tent sites around Israel and 75,000 taking to the streets last Saturday night, there have been reports that local municipalities and the police are planning to evict the protesters.

The reasons are two-fold: the growing complaints from local residents about the noise and unsanitary conditions resulting from five weeks of protests, and the need for police to concentrate on disturbances expected next month as the UN debates unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

The Trachtenberg Committee's recommendations have sparked an angry debate between the finance and defence ministries over the IDF budget. The Finance Ministry leaked to the press this week plans to cut the defence budget, currently at 54.4 billion shekels (£9.4 billion), by at least two billion shekels (£345 million). The cut would be used to finance tax breaks and social benefits, as recommended by the committee.

Meanwhile, there are signs that Mr Netanyahu may be trying to bypass the core middle-class protesters and appeal to his more traditional voters.

Sources close to the Trachtenberg Committee said this week that it will be focusing on helping those on the lower income levels, families making less than 9000 shekels (£1550) a month. The Prime Minister is certainly more interested in bettering the lot of these groups, which generally vote Likud, than the urban and secular middle class, which tends to vote leftwards.

Last updated: 12:50pm, August 18 2011