Canceling sugary drink, plastic taxes puts petty politics above health - editorial

Instead of welcoming reforms, the haredi politicians are playing petty politics, literally giving their voters unhealthy sugar candy.

Ecoams Planet faces environmental challenge posed by plastic bottles (photo credit: ECOAMS PLANET)
Ecoams Planet faces environmental challenge posed by plastic bottles
(photo credit: ECOAMS PLANET)

Two of the many accomplishments of the previous governments of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid – spearheaded by their finance minister Avigdor Liberman – were the taxes imposed on disposable plastic utensils and on soft drinks.

The taxes’ intentions were to cut down consumption of plasticware to reduce pollution, as well as to cut down sugar consumption – especially in low-income families – to reduce diabetes and other diseases.

In advocating for the bill in 2021, then-minister of environmental protection Tamar Zandberg said: “Israel is addicted to disposable plastic, particularly tableware, and it is time to break the habit. Disposable utensils are short-lived in nature and cause immense environmental damage, pollution of the sea and of public spaces and they inflict very severe damage.” 

“Israel is addicted to disposable plastic, particularly tableware, and it is time to break the habit. Disposable utensils are short-lived in nature and cause immense environmental damage, pollution of the sea and of public spaces and they inflict very severe damage.”

Tamar Zandberg

The EU has completely banned the use of many types of disposable plastics. Rather than adopt that draconian measure, the tax was intended to influence consumer behavior through an economic initiative while conserving freedom of choice. 

For instance, Health Ministry figures show that soft drinks account for 30-40% of Israelis’ consumption of added sugar that doesn’t exist naturally in foods.

 View of Empty plastic bottles on the Dead Sea beach, on November 5, 2020.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) View of Empty plastic bottles on the Dead Sea beach, on November 5, 2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Sugary soft drinks contribute to obesity and diabetes – it isn't anti-haredi

Medical experts say those drinks are key contributers to obesity in Israel, especially among children.

Other countries – including Britain, France, Finland and Mexico – have imposed similar taxes in an attempt to encourage a healthier lifestyle, pointing to research that shows such taxes can significantly lower the consumption of sugary drinks.

However, instead of winning whole-hearted applause, the tax was treated as an affront to the haredi community, which uses plastic and sugary products in significant quantities. Politicians from the haredi sector backed by Likud exploited the tax to delegitimize the Bennett-Lapid government and convince voters that Liberman and Bennett were targeting them personally, not acting on their behalf.

This was apparent based on the responses Sunday after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced that he would overturn the decision and remove the tax

United Torah Judaism MK and Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni expressed his satisfaction, saying the taxes were intended “first and foremost to harm the haredi public.” 

He was backed by UTJ MK Uri Maklev who said the tax was not intended to assist the public but was a bad and unprofessional decision intended to harm the public. “We will act via outreach and education to safeguard the environment and consume healthy beverages,” he said.

“We will act via outreach and education to safeguard the environment and consume healthy beverages.”

Uri Maklev

Sadly, this is another example of the cynical role some politicians play in their populist courting of their constituents. 

Instead of welcoming reforms that save lives and improve the environment, the haredi politicians are playing petty politics, literally giving their voters sugar candy, for a short-term energy boost that totally disregards their future health. 

Sugary drinks cause diabetes. In many patients, this leads to kidney dialysis, limb amputations, serious illnesses and death: “Therefore it is justified to tax them, as is accepted around the world. The taxation tool is not intended to burden the population but, on the contrary, to help it become healthier,” the Association of Public Health Physicians declared. “Not for nothing is the Torah likened to ‘living water’ and not to harmful drinks.... The meaning of the decision is that more Israelis will suffer from blindness, strokes, kidney failure and cardiac events due to diabetes and obesity.”

The haredi communities are large consumers of sugary drinks and plastic utensils because they have many children and understandably find it is easier to throw out a plastic plate than to wash it. 

But responsibility to our children and grandchildren, and to the world, should override convenience. Everyone needs to play a role in this and that includes the new government and its voters. 

Instead of overturning decisions made for the benefit of all, how about trying something else: explaining the benefit and not delegitimizing it just because it was made by the previous government.