Michael Boyden

It’s time for a revolution

There is a limit to what Israelis can be expected to swallow before they will hopefully eventually take to the streets and force the government to act.

We are used to rushing to our safe rooms and bomb shelters every few years to protect ourselves from enemy rockets and mortars. We are prepared to endure compulsory military service and some of us even take on the burden of reserve duty. We pay far more for our motorcars than people do in other countries, but enough is enough.

We are sick of being taken for a ride, or being what we call in Hebrew freierim (suckers). Why should it be that I can buy an imported pineapple in Marks & Spencers for £1.50 (six shekels), but in Israel, where they grow them, I have to pay 30-35 NIS for an inferior product? Why can my brother in Radlett Hertfordshire buy Yarden Chardonnay, an Israeli wine, more cheaply than I can in Hod Hasharon?

The examples are numerous. The Israeli company Tivall is currently marketing vegetarian frankfurters in England in a 277 gram pack at the discounted price of 2 NIS, while a 600 gram pack of the same product is sold in Israel for 30.90 NIS! Why does bottled water in Portugal cost less than a quarter of what it does here?

Some food manufacturers in Israel seem to have no shame. Back in 2011, Tenuvah sold milk to which they had added silicon until they were caught red handed and forced to pay out millions of shekels in compensation.

Only this past week there was an uproar when a dead rat’s head was discovered by a consumer in a pack of Sunfrost frozen beans. When sales had plummeted by 43 percent, Tenuvah’s CEO went on television to apologize and announce a re-call. What took him so long? More importantly, note how consumer power can impact on corporate decision making.

But it’s not only food. Look at how much we pay in Israel for a bank overdraft in comparison with the interest we receive on money we place on deposit. Why do we pay charges on current accounts that are in credit when similar accounts overseas are free? It could be the same here as well, if the banks were less greedy and the Bank of Israel did not allow them to get away with murder.

Much of this malaise is a direct result of the monopolies and cartels that exist in so many fields. There are only a few importers, who in effect control the prices that we pay for our goods. There are only a handful of Israeli food manufacturers, who determine the cost of what we eat. There are just several supermarket chains, who decide how much to charge us. There are hardly any banks to choose from.

There is also, alas, the general lethargy of an Israeli public, which in most cases has given up fighting, because people feel powerless to change things. Do you remember Daphni Leef and the tent revolution? Where did it get us?

Nevertheless, it is time that Israelis took to the streets again in spite of Bibi Netanyahu’s cynical promise that, when he is elected, he will lower prices. Where was he all of those years when he was in power?

What we need is a government that will be brave enough to reform the market, break up the monopolies and cartels, control the banks and give ordinary people a chance, as we put it in Hebrew, “to finish the month”. Otherwise, it should not surprise anyone, if more Israelis decide that enough is enough, and seek greener pastures elsewhere. That would not only be a tragedy and be disruptive for them and their families, but it will also spell the end of the Zionist dream.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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