Housing Crunch Reflects Israel’s Conflicts
Much remains unresolved as we celebrate the modern state's 70th birthday.
I’ve been to Israel 25 or more times and properly scheduled my recent trip to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the country. I was curious to be part of the activities, watching, participating and reading about the events of the week.
At 70, Israel is a young democracy, yet it surely has a lot to celebrate and a lot to resolve. In fact, the anniversary was front of mind in many of my meetings, filled with opinions readily offered regarding the current politics.
Israelis seem to agree on very little; however, there was (in Tel Aviv) a firm resolve to party through the anniversary night, then watch the air show from the beach.
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Rothschild Boulevard on Wednesday evening, April 18, was filled as the festivities began. The young and the not-so-young were out and about, and music was played at silly-high levels while historical footage was displayed on the walls of buildings adjacent to Independence Hall, just a few yards from our patio setting. And then there were enormous fireworks from a building near Rabin Square and elsewhere through the city.
On Thursday, the beach filled with revelers awaiting the noonish air show, an amazing display of technical abilities, noisy helicopters, incredibly fast fighter jets and even parachutists. People gave up trying to park and just left their cars in the street.
When you see fighter jets flying perpendicular to the ground and teams of jets dancing in the sky or, in one case, setting off fireworks, you can’t help but smile. It was quite a show and quite a crowd.
Yet, not unlike life, reaching milestone birthdays prompts considerable reflection, both good and bad. For some, it is very emotional, and opinions were shared without a question. Others, of course, see this anniversary, any anniversary, in the very short term and with little concern for others.
Some saw the 70th as a reason to party, while others were disturbed with the direction of the country’s compass and didn’t find cause for celebration. And some saw it both ways.
It seemed without question that the goods are really very good and that the bads are without a realistic answer.
For instance, most everyone can agree that Tel Aviv has a housing crisis. It is exceedingly difficult for those without significant means to live in the city, and the situation seems to get worse and worse, particularly given the country’s current 1.9 percent annual population growth.
Gorgeous new buildings are built along Rothschild, near Sarona, along Yigal Alon and elsewhere, each displacing smaller, often dilapidated structures. The recently announced census included the expectation that the country will grow from nearly 9 million people to nearly 15 million in 2048, Israel’s 100th anniversary.
The problem with affordable housing leads to an issue dealing with competent and quality education. Unlike the United States, where the debate often centers on keeping well-educated foreign students, in Israel many students, often the best, leave to study abroad. Yes, for sure there are dozens of Israeli IPOs and an enormous amount of high tech, but Israel’s loss of intellectual capital causes many to fret, and fret far more than even five years ago.
The politics in Israel can numb many voters. It was hardly an accident that The Jerusalem Post ran a large story that closely evaluated each of Israel’s 12 prime ministers and rated the current prime minister as the worst.
Israel is, unlike the United States, a country that elects the party, not the person. The Israeli system does not encourage the prime minister to transition and train new government leaders. Without term limits or any transition strategy, meaningful change is not, to most, a relevant possibility.
No doubt the voters in Israel appreciate that the current government understands military discipline, yet it has been many years since a group of college-age students (i.e., post-military) has made it through school without a military event, a situation that many find discouraging.
Lastly, the question was raised, amazingly and emotionally, about whether the Zionistic views of the founders have been replaced with a system driven by money and power. From where I sat, I could only listen, but the 70th anniversary brought thoughts of what needs to be completed and what must be improved (as well as what can get even better).
So, yes, Israel’s 70th anniversary was an amazing way to finish a lengthy business trip, and the party was made more poignant after recognizing Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) the day before, when the country twice came to a halt to honor its fallen fighters.
The question now is what is next. What are the dreams? How can Israel best be a Jewish country, a Jewish homeland, one that continues to grow positively in a manner that embraces the most people, one that can incorporate new citizens with those who have been in Israel for generations?
As they say, “It is complicated.” Happy anniversary, Israel. I look forward to many more visits and seeing you continue to evolve.
Abe Schear is a partner in the real estate practice of Arnall Golden Gregory in Midtown.