The Happy Arab News Service

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Urban Israel

This article illustrates well three important trends in todays' Israel: the economic boom, the de-secularization of Jerusalem and signs of a possible aliyah from France and Britain driven by the atmosphere of increasing anti-Semitism created by the Muslim immigration in Europe (Sorry for such a gross generalization NB). The last one may happen to be of huge importance for the future of the demographic race in Israel.

The Jerusalem Post

May. 3, 2007
by Dina Kraft / JTA

Under the shadow of cranes, steel beams and gleaming reflective glass, a forest of high-rise buildings seems to be taking over the Tel Aviv horizon - part of a nationwide building boom that Israelis and Diaspora Jews are buying into.

"The first time I was here was in 1983 and Tel Aviv has gone through a huge transformation from then to now," said Howard Glatzer, who runs a real-estate fund that invests in New York City properties. "As a Jew from New York who is very accustomed to seeing high-rises everywhere, I think it's fantastic, it shows the vitality of Israel, and that's great."

Glatzer took in the sight of shimmering new towers and construction during a tour of Jaffa, the southern part of Tel Aviv, with a group of other New York real-estate developers who were visiting last week as part of the 90th anniversary mission of the UJA-Federation of New York.

With increasing disposable income and a desire to live either part-time or eventually full-time in Israel, Jews from abroad - especially the United States, England and France - are finding a home in the Jewish state's real-estate landscape.

In 2002, foreign buyers invested $192 million in Israeli real estate. Just four years later the number had soared to $1.43 billion, according to the Bank of Israel.

"Israel is becoming one of the players in commercial and real-estate markets," said Hillel Suna, general manager of the Jerusalem branch of the Bank of Jerusalem, one of the country's largest mortgage banks for foreign residents. "There are two main groups here - individual investors buying several apartments and the big money people on the commercial side looking at Israel as a potential real-estate commercial center."

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"It reminds me of China," said Andy Singer, whose company, the Singer and Bassuk Organization, finances major Manhattan and other U.S. building projects. "The big joke in China is that the national bird is the crane. I think in many ways that is probably true of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem."

Tel Aviv at night

(from Israelity)

"I think it's a sign that people who have money to invest have the courage, enthusiasm and high regard for Israel and its ability to get past the continuing troubles with the Palestinians. These are assets you cannot move," said Singer, who was on the UJA-Federation mission.

Those buying in Jerusalem tend to be religious Jews, while those in Tel Aviv and surrounding areas usually are more secular. The French, who tend to seek out property as close as possible to the sea, have flocked especially to beachside cities like Netanya, Ashdod and Ashkelon.

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Foreign ownership in the central neighborhoods of Jerusalem has changed the face of the city. In some areas, English is heard more than Hebrew.

With many of the American Jews who buy in Israel coming only for holidays, their apartments often stand empty, creating a ghost-town feel in some projects and areas.

Foreign sales accounted for about 25 percent of recent purchases in central Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Rehavia and Katamon, and in the Jewish quarter of the Old City, said Davyd Tal, who owns the Jerusalem Homes agency and specializes in foreign clients.

"The sellers are usually Israeli and not religious, and they are moving out of Jerusalem," Tal said. "Jerusalem is losing its secular population, which is going to suburbs such as Modi'in and Mevasseret Zion. Young, secular couples cannot afford to buy in Jerusalem anymore. They are basically being priced out." (Just the right time to try to stage another pride parade NB)

The Jerusalem market is becoming pricey even for foreigners, who as a result increasingly are seeking outlying neighborhoods.

Beyond reasons of Zionism or family ties to Israel, European buyers are seen to be driven by fears of rising anti-Semitism at home, observers say.

English Jews have more buying power right now because the pound is rising against the dollar. But they're also being prodded by fear, Suna notes.

"There is a general feeling of discomfort, with the signs of the beginning of anti-Semitism," he said.

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