Committee hopes to address some of protesters demands

In an effort to calm the streets of Israel, a panel of ministers and some of the country’s leading economic experts will be drafting a plan to reduce the soaring cost of living.

The group’s creation was announced Aug. 7 following public protests the night before in which an estimated 250,000 people took to the streets around Israel.

In central Tel Aviv, thousands take part in an Aug. 6 rally against the high cost of living and soaring prices in Israel. photo/jta/flash90/dimai vazinovich

The Aug. 6 rallies marked the third weekend of mushrooming protests sparked by complaints over housing costs. Israelis are growing increasingly frustrated with their struggle to make ends meet despite economic growth in the country that is outpacing that of other developed nations.

But  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to rein in expectations of what the new government committee might accomplish when he said Israel needs to proceed cautiously, especially after Standard & Poor’s downgraded the United States’ credit rating on Aug. 5.

“We cannot take all the lists of problems, and all the list of demands, and pretend we will be able to satisfy everyone,” Netanyahu said. “We need to be fiscally responsible, while making some socially sensitive amendments.”

After weeks of vague calls for change, protest leaders published a list of specific demands late last week, including the construction of affordable housing and a reduction of the 16 percent sales tax. It is not clear how they would pay for the array of services they are demanding.

The government committee will present its recommendations within a month, Gidi Schmerling, a Netanyahu spokesman, told Army Radio.

The protest organizers — a loosely organized group of young Israelis stunned by the mass response to their complaints — have called for a million-person march in 50 cities across the country on Sept. 3.

While they have sought to steer clear of appearing political in their calls for reform, the protesters have given voice to the growing wealth disparity in the country and what critics contend is an inequitable distribution of government resources. — jta