}

Disney Jerusalem Land!

The news in Israel has been dominated by a national tent protest led by students and young adults who are rallying against rent increases. Indeed rental prices have increased by 49% over the last six years in Tel Aviv and 32% in Jerusalem with similarly significant increases across the country. Yesterday, while enjoying a hummus plate, I overheard one gentleman saying about the protesters “They’re a bunch of spoiled Ashkenazic kids who just want to party in Tel-Aviv.” Indeed this seems to be a very common sentiment despite the fact that tent encampments are everywhere, from Haifa to Be’er Sheva – and who the heck wants to party in Haifa, let alone Be’er Sheva (no offense there folks). Well, regardless of the partying habits of the spawn of shtetl kids, their grievances are kind of legitimate.

All up and down Hayarkon street in Tel Aviv, speculators and developers are flipping empty properties in order to artificially increase their value ahead of future luxury condo development. Tel Aviv City Hall isn’t doing anything to stop it and is at least passively complicit in the evolution of the city into a developers paradise.

In Jerusalem, it seems City Hall is a wholly owned subsidiary of Greedy Developers Inc. As one luxury project after another get approved for construction, no one is building affordable housing and prices for existing rentals are increasing to the point that locals are leaving in droves. Entrepreneurial opportunists are scouring the market for housing that can be converted into tiny, expensive apartments designed for well monied students or holiday apartment rentals for tourists looking for a more authentic Jerusalem experience “mere minutes by foot from the Kotel.”

And what do the harried residents of Jerusalem get? We get nice distractions like Balabusta and the Jerusalem Season of Culture run by (amongst others) the Municipality of Jerusalem and Teddy Kollek’s Jerusalem Foundation. Never mind that Teddy is rolling in his grave at the sight of Jerusalem blighted by one high rise luxury development after another. We now have people dressed like birds and Fish n’ Chips Techno at the shuk!

Smoke and mirrors. Distractions. I mean don’t get me wrong, I like these little festival things, but why can’t the powers that be just be honest? If you’re not wealthy, you shouldn’t live in Jerusalem, plain and simple. But then what about the less monied citizens that make Jerusalem the interesting place that it is? The kooky haredim, the harried secular Jews? The artists? If we get rid of them then Jerusalem will become less attractive, won’t it? So I have a solution: JerusalemLand!

Rather than fight the Disneyfication of Jerusalem, let’s just run with it full throttle! What Mayor Barkat should do is go neighborhood by neighborhood, starting at those places closest to the Kotel and City center and move everyone out – like they did at Mamila. The residents will be moved to new neighborhoods on the periphery of Jerusalem and be provided with subsidized housing. Developers and contractors will be allowed a free hand in building all the luxury condos and fancy hotels they like in the evacuated parts of Jerusalem. Absentee property owners will have a fantastic selection of properties that they can purchase and live in for one month a year and massive profits will accrue to those well connected with the municipality and the municipality itself. Jerusalem’s economy will boom!

But here’s the genius part. The people kicked out of their homes will not only be provided with relatively cheap housing. They will also be provided with jobs! What kind of jobs? Well, like in Disneyland, they will be able to dress up as famous historical and biblical characters and roam the city center to the amusement of the tourists. One street corner will have King David playing the harp, another King Solomon cavorting with his wives. We’ll be able to recreate the liberation of the Temple Mount every day at 4 pm with people dressed up as paratroopers, led by Moshe Dayan. Someone else can pretend to be Rabbi Goren and blow the shofar. We can have regularly scheduled “riots” in Meah Shearim followed by Klezmer shows and re-enactments of scenes from Fiddler on the Roof. Artists in hipster clothing will be hired to draw caricatures, hippies in Nachlaot will man drum circles and perform a selection of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s greatest hits. Children can choose to purchase dreadlock wigs or funny haredi hats. And the shuk? We’ll get rid of all the smelly fish, meat and vegetable stands and replace them with chichi eateries and shops – rich people and tourists don’t cook after all. We’ll keep a few stands open to sell shakes and pre-cut fruit and vegetables and we’ll man the booths with students made up to look and sound like Iraqi vendors, for the sake of authenticity. Every day will feature a Balabusta Festival! It will be awesome and everyone will be happy in JerusalemLand!

And best of all? No more of those pesky kids and their stupid tents fighting for what’s best for all. Feh.

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ck

Publisher at Jewlicious
Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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23 Comments

  1. themiddle

    8/3/2011 at 12:35 pm

    Hmmm, cavorting with the wives…

  2. Batya

    8/4/2011 at 1:54 am

    I became suspicious when I didn’t see laundry in the WC sinks in Gan HaSus/Menorah. http://shilohmusings.blogspot.com/2011/07/whos-really-behind-costhousingwhatever.html Real homeless would be using the free water.

    • ck

      8/4/2011 at 4:46 am

      Great anonymous comment on your blog Batya. I think it says it all:

      I’m sorry that the protesters are not all frum, Torah fearing Jews. I’m sorry that some of the protesters are political agitators and opportunists, but as Sarah Nadav notes in the Jerusalem Post, the issues are very real. Those of you who refuse to see the very real problems we have in this country, and opt instead to stay with the status quo, well, unless you are millionaires then you are in fact “friars.” You are taking money out of your pockets and giving it to wasteful bureaucracies, corrupt politicians and the vested interests that enable this almost kleptocratic system of governance. Good for you for turning a vital issue abouit the continued vitality and viability of our country into a cheap partisan affair.

  3. Yoseph Leib

    8/4/2011 at 2:35 am

    Leave it to CK to find the perfect solution for everyone! Why aren’t YOU mayor?

  4. Yoseph Leib

    8/4/2011 at 2:37 am

    The man problem w/ the plan is that the city would probably rather hire foreign workers for cheaper to play all the roles. Saw this happen in New York, once upon a time.

  5. JJ

    8/4/2011 at 2:56 am

    Hated this article.

    Not only its not to the point, but the writer also tries to b a smart@ss and funny…
    Interesting topic, very misleading and def not interesting (though the writer tries real hard).

    • ck

      8/4/2011 at 4:53 am

      You have to be more specific with your gripes JJ. How else am I going to know what I said that was wrong? As far as being funny goes, I’m not funny. That can’t be helped. What can I do? Also, keep my “mama” out of this.

  6. Yoseph Leib

    8/4/2011 at 3:10 am

    @JJ– misleading? whatever do you mean? Did you not khap the satire?

  7. sarah

    8/4/2011 at 4:22 am

    Finally someone who is not afraid to speak some sense! ck, thanks for being a voice for all us little people who are just not buying into the bullshit. I happen to live in Jerusalem, and over the past few years I have been shocked by how quickly the city is being converted into a luxury vacation entertainment center. The Municipality just recently offered ICE SKATING FOR THE PEOPLE! while behind closed doors bribes were being given to tear down yet another building to erect LUXURY apartments for overseas investors. And every week the historic Mahane Yehuda Market looses a fruit/veg stand to a high end jewelry store or overpriced cafe! My new neighbors downstairs who just recently bought the apartment, did a high end renovation and are renting it out short term to tourists! My building is turning into a HOTEL! Why are there no zoning laws? And if there are, why does no one give a shit to enforce them? Why don’t my new neighbors have to get a permit to use their residential property as a business! And why is tones of money being pored into ‘cultural’ events by do-good organizations and the Municipality while what is really going on is that Jerusalem is very very quickly loosing its unique culture? ck, thanks for sounding the alarm. I fear however that most of the people who have the power to do anything about it will not hear it…

  8. DML

    8/4/2011 at 5:06 am

    Paratroopers led by Motta Gur, taken by 10am.

    • ck

      8/4/2011 at 6:12 am

      Yes that is historically correct, but a re-enactment that ends at 10 am is too early for the tourists. Also think of the product tie ins! How many JerusalemLand ™ eye patches will we be able to sell to kids wanting to emulate their hero Moshe Dayan?

  9. josh

    8/6/2011 at 4:00 pm

    The current protest reminds me of the massive protests against the expulsion from Gush Katif. The protesters were (and still are) described as ‘orange’ and blindly followed the leadership on activity after activity. It failed though. The media was not supportive and the leadership (Moetzet Yesha) was documented later proven to have merely showing a fake controlled protests for the orange to work off steam. The police were invited to planning sessions. The masses were humble and naive following the central leadership. The same is today.

    The supporters/protesters setting up tents and going to local rallies around the country really do want ‘social justice’ but the central leadership has since shown (we knew this from the beginning) that there are extreme-leftists funded by the New Israel Fund and do not really have specific demands except to bring down the Likud government. And given all that, they might seem to be demanding a housing solution (we assume this is the main point because the media and us want to ignore their actual background) but the solution to satisfy their vague demands, is actually more government, i.e. socialism. Who the hell wants that?

  10. josh

    8/6/2011 at 4:04 pm

    And about the real estate. Are we headed for a bubble? Is it really possible to turn the clock back in the centre of the major cities and provide ‘affordable housing’? Isn’t there an economic rule called supply and demand? How is it really possible for the government to provide cheap housing in prestigious locations? Wouldn’t this just be a prize to contractors or the lucky young buyers to scoop up cheap units and then flip them back to the market? (or do we force them to not sell the property for X years, and must reside (as in domicile, not just in name) or else risk appropriation?

    • themiddle

      8/6/2011 at 10:27 pm

      I think the real estate is one issue, but the real issues here are related to the high cost of living in general, particularly relative to salaries and to high taxes. Almost every item you buy in the store costs twice what it would cost in a store in Europe or the USA. Have you seen what Lego sets cost in Israel? Have you gone to price a dishwasher, cutlery or furniture? Why are cars twice as expensive as abroad? Why is gas for the cars so expensive? At the same time, the middle class is taxed to death, and end up carrying the burden for several sectors in society which earn far less and pay little in taxes while getting far more in services.

      Also, a bunch of families and their related enterprises control a significant chunk of Israel’s economic infrastructure and that probably has a lot to do with the exorbitant prices. I have no idea why salaries remain so low, but they may also be a function of these monopolies. However, there is no question that other than those who work as the key employees in the high tech sector or in the top banking/finance/government managerial slots, it is extremely challenging for a working couple with children to support themselves, particularly after taxes. When you add in 16% VAT, it is simply too hard to make ends meet.

      These are things which are in the government’s power to change. Lowering taxes? Why not? Breaking up monopolies, increasing minimum wages, imposing price restrictions that would ensure the Israeli consumer doesn’t get ripped off at every turn, and providing greater support for educational platforms and those factors which might increase people’s opportunities and wages across the country are also all things the government can do. Of course, the politicians don’t have these concerns or know better than to challenge the families which control the economy, or are afraid to lower taxes because they have to feed the defense ministry as well as minorities that carry lots of weight in the Knesset, so they don’t bother dealing with these issues other than paying occasional lip service.

      However, changes need to happen. It’s simply not reasonable. By the way, one of the unfortunate but real results of these challenges is that many young Israeli couples and singles leave for foreign countries. Of course, the people who tend to leave are those who can, those who have earned desirable degrees and particularly those who can find well-paying jobs. The loss to Israel is immeasurable.

  11. josh

    8/7/2011 at 4:44 pm

    Cars 91% tax – good. There is not enough road for more two car families here. The government actually did lower taxes recently, but the car importers just gobbled the difference up. The dollar went down 20% from its peak, but importers did not want to hurt the resale value of used cars, so prices did not budge.

    The ‘social change’ starts at a personal level. How many of these tent dwellers give ma’aser 10% of income to tzedakah??? I want to see half these leftists and anarchists going to volunteer at soup kitchens and battered women’s homes instead of lazily demanding the government (someone else is always responsible, never ever point the finger at yourself) do something. And so they come to the government with demands (because after the disastrous beginning of the protest when the leaders (admitted anarchists as well as people who sat in jail for refusing to serve in the army) simply demanded the government quit and made childish demands from Netanyahu himself) and do not bother to care who will pay for all these new incentives (hint: the middle class).

    The high cost of living is definitely caused by monopolistic importers. If I want to but a stick of Gillette gel here, it’s going to cost me 2X or 3X the retail price in the States. Most importers have a monopoly on brands and this should be discontinued ASAP.

    You are right about the absurd lower cost of Israeli products overseas. The local companies like higher prices, we simply do not have the massive competition like in large countries. The cottage cheese is just an example of the greed of Israeli conglomerates. Tnuva was unloaded by the government to a private investment fund for cheap – BAD. Fund wants to make a short term large profit so they raise the price on various products – the demand for cottage cheese is rigid – and voila their revenues go up and the company is put on the block for a much higher price. Other companies used the world news of rising commodities to raise prices and others criminally (IMO) cut package sizes but kept the same price. The standard Humus 500ml container became 450 and for another company 400, under the guise of ‘new improved package’

    Leiberman came out two weeks ago with his old non-PC talk that we rarely see these days, about how the protesters should stop whining and for them to realize how good the country is now especially compared to the other European and American economies. Sales of large screen plasma/LCD/LED screens are up this year, record amount of Israelis are flying overseas, car sales are up, unemployment is a record lows, everyone is buying 3000NIS smartphones, and baruch Hashem, the malls are packed all year round. People are whining about ‘not making a living’ like my sister-in-law who is in debt 30 000NIS but still goes away for an annual week-long hotel stay because she gets 50% off. Social justice starts at a personal level, or not. This is the attitude of many people.

    There was a real hope of social justice. We had just started the cottage boycott which was also moving to diapers and more, but along came, very conveniently, the social justice movement. The mass tabloid media had been very uncomfortable supporting the price protest (against their own advertisers) that Globes had started, and along came the perfect diversion AND a way to bash the Likud government and Netanyahu. We have since forgotten about reducing prices on everyday goods.

    What the leftist leaders did is actually waste the idea of protests for a general idea that no one can deliver in the short term. The leaders (and the New Israel Fund) thought they could get around democratic elections by demanding the government fall is now realizing by many hushed surveys that the Likud was not hurt at all by the protests. They failed and when they don’t get their demands, and the summer is coming to a close, people will lose more faith in this tool and go back to their LEDs and complacency.

    As for people who want to leave, (like the guy in the office next to me) their choice, not my problem. Let them go fight for jobs overseas.

    • themiddle

      8/7/2011 at 9:49 pm

      Well, maybe you work with an undesirable next-office neighbor, but the point remains that many – not a majority, but enough that some prime talent is lost – of the brightest, best-educated, most capable Israelis end up leaving because life is challenging from a fiscal standpoint. I heard recently that Israel loses about 26% of its academics to foreign universities. This figure contrasts poorly with the 2% the UK loses every year. These are people who are not only highly trained, but whose education has been subsidized by the state. Now they’re going to use that knowledge and capability in some foreign university even as Israel cuts its university and education budgets further. It’s ridiculous. Israel loses a ton of programmers, scientists, engineers and other highly trained individuals to the US, UK, Australia and some EU countries. These are the people you want to keep, these are the people who make a society exceptional. These are the people who help propel an economy.

      My comment is not related to this tent movement. They’ve made some mistakes and they’ve been right about certain things. Were they hijacked? Possibly. The fact they can’t affect the Likud is the key problem here. Nobody can. The electoral system in Israel prevents MKs from being held personally responsible for their political actions. This is one of the key reasons you have so many failures on the federal level in Israel. There are few consequences for mistakes other than losing a war or a significant battle against the Arabs (and even then you may not get punished by the voters).

      The point remains that high taxes, a regressive VAT, family and conglomerate monopolies continue to maintain ridiculously high prices.

      I won’t debate the fact that some Israelis live at a high standard and that others use debt as a cushion to support a lifestyle they can’t afford, but these are exceptions to the rule, not the rule. Another way of looking at some of the people who live beyond their means is that their means are so woefully inadequate to maintain a reasonable standard of living that they have to find other ways, such as debt, to support their needs. Let’s face it, buying meat for Friday night dinner and shabbat chulent at NIS80-115/kilo is a serious hit for a person earning NIS2500/week before taxes. Considering that person also has to fill up a gas tank at NIS320, assuming he can afford the small car (used at NIS75,000) for NIS150,000 and has to pay NIS300 for an oil/filter change, how do you expect him not to get into debt to manage finances?

      Also, re tzedakah, where the heck are they supposed to get that tithing money when staples are so expensive?

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