cottage cheese 311 R.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
As the “Cottage” revolution marches on, suddenly everyone is for protecting the
consumer – especially those who for decades helped rob consumers by sanctioning
monopolies once controlled by the government and Histadrut, and later mostly by
Our MKs were the first to raise the cry about the injustice
committed against consumers, especially after 100,000 citizens voted “like” in
the cottage cheese Facebook boycott page.
They suddenly learned how to
pay attention to voters and not only to lobbyists.
like us to forget who created the system that plunders the public. They levy
exorbitant taxes, especially regressive taxes on consumption, so that they can
have enough funds to buy votes by handing out goodies to vested
They are also the ones who allocate the monopoly privileges
that add a hidden 30-percent tax on everybody by inflating the prices of all
consumer goods and services.
Some of them would like us to forget that
they habitually sneak small paragraphs into most economic laws designed to
restrain competition. Such underhanded practices enabled about 10 car importers
to amass NIS 500 million each by permitting them to control garage services and
charge inflated prices for cars, spare parts and repairs. Our MKs allow cement,
building materials and contractors’ monopolies to inflate housing prices so that
it takes 14 years of salary to buy a small apartment.
Now they are
shedding crocodile tears about the terrible burden they helped impose on
hundreds of thousands of families.
Soon they will have a chance to prove
how deeply they care for the consumer – to show whether they’ve really
internalized the fact that the long-suffering consumers may threaten their
political careers when they learn not only to boycott cottage cheese, but also
to politically punish those who jeopardize their livelihood.
MEMBERS will have to help disassemble the structures of economic and political
concentration and reverse the dangerous abuses they have created that threaten
democracy. The control by very few people over most large firms in Israel, the
fact that six people use a third of all credit and control the media, is cause
not only for high prices, but also for lack of competition, low productivity,
low salaries and distorting public debate. It is responsible for the high rates
of credit for borrowers without “access” (some banks make as much as 30% on the
credit they extend to building projects), and for the far more serious
mis-allocation of credit. Instead of investing in productive enterprises, instead
of financing small and new businesses, most credit in Israel is allocated to
tycoons who invest it in risky mega-projects, especially in real estate and
mostly abroad. In the meantime, the Negev and the Galilee languish because they
Yet we already hear voices among our MKs trying to
protect the tycoons and prevent serious steps against concentration by
trivializing the problem.
They must be exposed if they attempt to
undermine a reform that will be one of the most important in Israel’s
Next to our politicians, the Histadrut labor federation is most
responsible for the dismal lot of the Israeli consumer.
always protected the many monopolies and cartels it owned, and their associated
unions, at the expense of consumers and lower-paid workers. It politicized the
workplace, forcing Israeli workers to suffer under the tyranny of corrupt labor
bosses, to waste their time on politicking rather than on increasing
productivity. This is a major reason the talented Israeli worker produces a bare
twothirds of what US workers produce, and why he is paid such a measly salary.
The Histadrut’s apparatchiks make careers by fomenting labor strife and
diminishing productivity, thereby harming the worker and the economy. Offer
Eini, the current labor chief, is a partner of the industrialists and tycoons in
exploiting the consumer. He recently objected to reducing the high cost of
gasoline (almost $10 a gallon) because he feared that the loss of excessive
profits would force the tycoons to cut the high wages paid to oil industry
The Manufacturers Association under Shraga Brosh, Eini’s buddy,
pays little attention to increasing productivity through investment in industry
because it is totally preoccupied with protecting monopolies. It apparently pays
better to work on the “line” to Jerusalem (for access to government favor) than
on production lines.
Let us also not forget two MKs whose prescription
for helping consumers is to return to the good old days of (corrupt) Mapai
Socialism. Shelly Yacimovich and Zehava Gal-On are trying to jump on the cottage
revolt bandwagon and steer it forward to a failed past.
But the cake must
go to the two top executives of the most rapacious food conglomerates – to
Zehavit Cohen of Apax and Tnuva, and to Ofra Strauss of Strauss Inc. They and
their role model, Nochi Dankner, are among those most responsible for the
inflated costs of consumer items. Yet they, too, had something to say about how
others may ease the consumers’ plight.
Luckily we can rest assured that
Izhak Alrov, who initiated the cottage boycott, and his associates are not only
honest and upright, but also very smart.
The trust the public has in them
will prevent all those who attempt to co-opt their revolution from succeeding.
We may therefore hope, however cautiously, that this revolution will bring about
a sea change not only in our economic system, but also in our political
Call it accountability.
The writer is director of the Israel
Center for Social and Economic Progress.