Smotrich blames former gov’t for upcoming 3% rise in milk prices

In explanation of the price rise, the Agriculture Ministry has highlighted the war in Ukraine as a primary cause.

 People shop for groceries at the Shufersal Deal supermarket in Katsrin, Golan Heights, on November 28, 2022. (photo credit: MICHAL GILADI/FLASH90)
People shop for groceries at the Shufersal Deal supermarket in Katsrin, Golan Heights, on November 28, 2022.
(photo credit: MICHAL GILADI/FLASH90)

On Monday, the Agriculture Ministry plans to implement a 3% rise in the government-controlled price of a liter of milk to NIS 7.23, marking the latest in a series of milk price increases that have seen the commodity’s cost rise by 16% in six months. 

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich will reportedly be meeting with dairy industry players in an attempt to curb the price hike, though few details have surfaced regarding his specific efforts to resolve the rise in prices, which has been expected for several months already.

The Agriculture Ministry announcement on Tuesday triggered harsh criticism of the previous government by Smotrich, who blamed former finance minister Avigdor Liberman for the increase.

“Following an agreement signed by Liberman in the previous government, the price of controlled dairy products should automatically increase by 16% at the beginning of next month. We can’t let that happen,” said Smotrich. “In recent weeks, the professionals at the Finance Ministry and myself have been examining a number of ways to moderate the increase and formulate solutions that will make it easier for the public and cover the opacity and irresponsibility of Lapid and Liberman.”

Liberman fired back in a tweet: “Zero management, zero taking responsibility, zero professionalism,” he wrote. “When I took up my duties as finance minister, I inherited the Israeli economy in a very difficult situation, after irresponsible and populist management of scattering money from the helicopter in favor of political achievements… We ended the year 2022 with macroeconomic data among the best in the world.”

He went on to note that at the end of his tenure in the position, the economy was experiencing a very successful period by several measures including a low deficit, lower unemployment and international recognition for its high-ranking economy.

“Unlike the current government, we did not have to use the prime minister and the president to beg the credit rating company not to downgrade Israel’s credit rating forecast,” he wrote, referring to recent efforts from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent Moody’s and other credit-rating organizations from lowering the economy’s score in light of the looming judicial reform, which hundreds of economists have warned will tank the economy.

“We didn’t engage in blame games, we didn’t raise our hands, and we invested hours upon hours advancing the Israeli economy and for the citizens of Israel. The time has come for the current Israeli government and Finance Minister Smotrich to stop whining, complaining and blaming the whole world for their failures. Draw conclusions and resign. The citizens of Israel deserve real, responsible and non-populist leadership,” Liberman concluded.

To explain the price rise, the Agriculture Ministry has highlighted the war in Ukraine as a primary cause: the conflict has led to the price increase of livestock feed, which has made dairy production more expensive for farmers. The ministry also noted that increases in electricity, fuel and the general cost of living have influenced the decision.

All of a sudden, the expected thing happened

Dairy industry representatives forecast an expected rise in milk prices in January. In response, committee chairman David Bitan asked Smotrich to investigate ways to curb the potential increase.

“I wanted to lower the price, and now I see that I have to stop the price from increasing. What is going on here?” Bitan asked. “Tell [Smotrich] that this is what came up in the discussion, and we want an answer.”

While dairy prices will likely increase next week, consumers of milk substitutes made from oats, soya or almonds will be unaffected.