JTA has a great article on how Jerusalem students are organizing against absentee homeownership. Diaspora Jews are buying up large chunks of the capital’s housing stock and turning entire neighborhoods into virtual ghost towns for much of the year:
When the masses of visiting American Jews who own vacation homes in Israel’s capital leave Jerusalem to return home after Passover, they’ll be leaving behind mostly empty apartments – and frustrated Jerusalemites.
While many Diaspora Jews consider their Israeli homes an important investment in the Jewish state, many locals say absentee homeowners have driven up market prices, drained the market of available rentals and made many Jerusalem neighborhoods unaffordable for Israelis.
That’s why a coalition of student activists has launched a campaign to persuade the absentee homeowners to open up their homes to Israeli renters.
“We think it’s great that foreign Jews are buying here and investing in Jerusalem,” said David Uziel, 29, a graduate student in urban planning at Hebrew University. “But if they keep their apartments empty, they are weakening Jerusalem.”
To highlight the problem, a group of some 80 students held a demonstration last December in which the students dressed as ghosts and marched through “ghost town” neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including the upscale David’s Village development opposite the Old City’s Jaffa Gate.
“We walked with megaphones through these neighborhoods shouting, ‘Is anyone home?’ ” said Roy Folkman, the head of Hebrew University’s student union. “We saw no one. No one came out.”
Read the full article here.
There’s also, of course, a larger point to be made about the ethical and practical implications of real estate speculation, and what happens (as we’re now seeing here in America) when homes come to be seen, primarily, not as places to live, but as investment opportunities.