Farmers, Defense Ministry spar over food supplies for soldiers during shmita

Members of Farmers Federation of Israel slam Defense Ministry, IDF for plans to import produce during upcoming schmita year.

A drip irrigation farm. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A drip irrigation farm.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Members of the Farmers Federation of Israel – also known as the Israel Farmers Association slammed the Defense Ministry and IDF on Thursday for plans to import produce during the upcoming shmita (fallow) year.
Defense Ministry denied the complaint as erroneous the same day.
The upcoming New Year is also a shmita year, the agricultural sabbatical that occurs every seven years, as mandated by the Torah.
During the year, the Land of Israel is supposed to remain fallow, though rabbinic interpretations beginning in the 1900s determined that Jewish farmers could sell their land to be farmed by non- Jews, through a procedure called “heter mechira.”
Depending on individual beliefs, many religious Jews still rely on this determination, while the most ultra-Orthodox will eat only fruits and vegetables imported from abroad during the year.
The Farmers Federation Israel accused the Defense Ministry of deciding to import all fruits and vegetables for IDF troops during this time from abroad, a step that the organization stressed would cause harm to farmers in Israel. Federation chairman Meir Tzur, who is also secretary-general of the Moshav Movement, went so far as to accuse the ministry and the IDF of “declaring war on Israeli agriculture.”
Also weighing in on the issue, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir demanded that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon order the IDF’s chief rabbi to purchase fruits and vegetables under the heter mechirah procedure for the shmita year.
“The IDF’s chief rabbi is implementing in the army the ‘Laws of Mea She’arim,’ burdening the general public with the unnecessary expenditure of tens of millions of shekels and harming Israeli agriculture,” Shamir said.
Calling the claims about the fruit and vegetable imports “incorrect,” the Defense Ministry accused the federation of “tendentiously distorting the facts.”
“As part of the shmita year, the IDF and the Defense Ministry have guaranteed that the company that won the tender to supply vegetables to IDF soldiers has enough sources in order to ensure that a vast majority of the products will be supplied by means of Israeli farmers through a variety of different channels across the country,” a statement from the ministry said.
At this stage, the ministry explained, the agreement is only for six months, and does not involve changes in costs or prices of the vegetable supply.
“The purchase agreement for the rest of the shmita year has not yet been signed, but in any case, will be entirely from Israeli farmers,” the Defense Ministry said.
“We regret the tendentious attempt of parties with commercial interests to bash the security system.”