If you followed the Israeli media over the last week, you would have been excused for thinking that the most important story in the Jewish state was about Yuval Dayan, the 27-year-old singer who declined to shake President Joe Biden’s hand on Thursday at the President’s Residence.
I have my opinion about what Dayan did (she was wrong), but does it really matter? Does her immature decision really warrant over 100 stories, the amount I counted on Google News?
The answer is obvious. The problem is that the media in Israel – like the rest of the world – tend to get caught up in the sensational moment while ignoring the story playing out before our eyes that should really be getting our attention.
And what is that story? The economy, stupid as James Carville famously said.
It's all about the money
What is happening in Israel is outrageous, from the price gouging, the breakdown in government oversight, to the constant climb in the cost of basic goods.
Gas prices in Israel are some of the highest in the world, practically double what people pay in the United States. Americans have every right to complain about paying $5 for a gallon of gas. If it makes them feel any better, here we are paying over $9.
Electricity prices are next. They are supposed to go up by about 15%, which means that if you pay NIS 1,000 a month for electricity now, get ready for that cost to rise NIS 150.
The gouging is everywhere. Have you been to a movie lately? I went with one of my daughters on Saturday night to see the new Thor film (don’t bother): two tickets, one medium-sized popcorn and two drinks set us back almost NIS 200, about $60. I checked online what it would cost at an AMC theater in Manhattan. Same movie, same popcorn and drinks – $15-$20 less.
Bread prices are going up, apartments are unaffordable, coffee prices are soaring, and don’t even get me started trying to figure out how much hotels cost here compared with Europe or the US. A weekend in a nice hotel in Tel Aviv will set you back almost NIS 5,000. A hotel just as nice –with a pool and breakfast included – will cost you about a third in places like Chicago or Boston.
Want to buy a new car? Nothing too fancy, like a Mazda CX-30? That will set you back NIS 152,900, about $45,000. Same car in the US is almost $23,000 less. A Nissan Altima starts in Israel at NIS 172,990, over $50,000. In the US, the starting price is $25,000, half the price in Israel.
That is quite the difference.
Why is it like this? Simple: because the government, the retailers, the hoteliers, and the restauranteurs can get away with it.
For the most part, Israelis just let this situation continue. They continue to pay 100% in taxes on cars, they pay more for shipping of products from overseas, and more on basic goods like shampoo, creams, cheeses and deodorant.
Considering buying a six-pack of Dove deodorant at Super-Pharm in Israel? It will cost NIS 77. On Amazon, the same six bottles cost NIS 63, a 14 shekel difference.
For the average Israeli, this situation is intolerable. People are suffering and families are collapsing under the economic burden, unable to balance a budget at the end of each month.
Can this change?
It will depend on the Israeli public. An opportunity to effect change is coming up on November 1, when Israel will go to its fifth election in three-and-a-half years. One way to ensure that something happens this time is to demand that parties present a clear economic platform of what they intend to do if and when they are part of a coalition.
Ignore the populist campaign slogans you will hear over the next few months. Netanyahu, for example, will try to blame Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Alternate PM Naftali Bennett for the recent price spike, while ignoring what happened during the prior 12 years when he was prime minister. A great example was when he went to a gas station two weeks ago and made a video against the government over the recent increase in gasoline prices.
Besides the amusement watching Netanyahu stand next to a gas pump – when was the last time he actually filled a car’s tank? – it was impossible to ignore his cynicism. Videos later circulated on Twitter from 2011 and 2012 when his government also raised gasoline prices, and he – the prime minister – claimed in cabinet meetings that the government cannot influence the prices. “Even [Barack] Obama can’t stop the prices from going up,” he said then.
We need to see beyond all of this and focus on what is really important: helping people live a respectable life and make ends meet.
Over the last four elections, the main question Israelis have been focused on when voting was whether they wanted Bibi, or did not want Bibi. It is time for a little more thoughtfulness. Hopefully, we can meet the challenge.