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Israel living standards protest gives way to settlement expansion argument

 

The Israeli protests about high living standards have opened the chasm between secular and ultra-orthodox Israeli Jews once again. West Bank settlers argue that expanding housing in the West Bank would reduce prices — a typical lesson in supply and demand that probably carries some value. The Israelis who started the protests, however, oppose that logic.

Most Israeli Jews are secular and hold an unfavorable view of the settlers who believe the West Bank is a necessary part of the Jewish state. I was reporting in Jerusalem in 2009 and witnessed this dynamic firsthand — that summer, ultra-orthodox Jews began demonstrating outside a Jerusalem parking lot that was open on Shabbat. Those protests continue today.

I am not advocating for settlement expansion. Still, while unpopular, the ultra-orthodox Jew’s comments in the video above make sense at a surface level — expand housing to meet demand. It’s a politically toxic argument to focus that expansion in the West Bank, but Jerusalem already is stretched pretty thin when it comes to finding land to develop new high-rises. The areas surrounding Tel Aviv — a mere 45 minutes from Jerusalem — are too arid for sustainable development.

But I do think the last person interviewed in the video above makes a prescient observation — ultra-orthodox Jews will try to co-opt this living standards protest and make it about settlement expansion. The argument ultra-orthodox Jews have pushed is easy to understand. Ultimately, there are few people on the fence in Israel when it comes to settlements. Even former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin called settlers crazy, although in more colorful terms. Therefore, the simple answer posited by ultra-orthodox Jews is not likely to convert anyone disinclined to settlement expansion.

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