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Coalition members attack budget’s agriculture reform plan

CM 23/08/2021

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Israel’s planned agricultural reform is the latest battleground from partners within the coalition for the nation’s Israel’s upcoming budget, and the Economic Arrangements Law that accompanies it.
On Sunday night, 11 members of the government from the Labor and Blue and White Parties wrote a letter addressed to Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman saying they would not support the draft unless the agricultural reform is removed from the Arrangements Law.
“You had [said] to our party before the budget was approved that the reform would only be promoted in the first reading only after reaching an agreement with representatives from the dairy and farming industries,” the letter said. “To our dismay, there are no negotiations currently being held on the matter. We are fundamentally opposed to this imposed reform, which in our opinion will greatly harm the farmers, and is not currently able to reduce the cost of living in Israel.”

In addition, the entire Meretz party delivered a signed letter demanding the agricultural reform is removed from the Arrangements Law on Monday.
The agriculture reform, which would increase competition in the agriculture industry and lower the prices of fruits, vegetables and eggs to the consumer, is one of the most controversial sticking points of the proposed budget.
Agriculture Minister Oded Forer has called the plan “the greatest reform that has been made in agriculture in the last 30 years,” and the Finance Ministry estimates it could save Israelis some NIS 2.7 billion a year, or NIS 840 per household. Farmers have been protesting this measure in the streets, saying the reforms will destroy the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and agriculture workers and irreparably damage the nation’s food security with no real impact on the cost of living.
Oded Forer at the Presidential Meeting (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Oded Forer at the Presidential Meeting (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Labor, which has seven of the coalition’s 61 mandates, is emerging as a leading force within the government opposing the budget. Last week, ministers from Labor and Meretz asked Liberman to remove a proposed reform to reduce regulation and bureaucracy in government offices. While Liberman has said the plan would save the economy between NIS 7b. and NIS 8b. a year, Labor and Meretz say it would interfere with the fundamental workings of the government, and make it more difficult for officials to pass and implement regulations.
On Monday, Labor Party secretary-general Eran Hermoni called on party members to fight to remove “social injustices” like the agriculture reform and raising the retirement age of women from the Arrangements Law.
“The Finance Minister would be wise to get himself a ladder to allow him to come down from the treetops he climbed,” Hermoni said.
Also Monday, Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak, who chairs the Knesset Agricultural Lobby, wrote on Facebook that “I do not like the agriculture reform that is in the Arrangements Law and it is against my nature. I agree with my fellow farmers that it is necessary to make amendments to the reform. But these corrections need to be made in dialogue and dialogue between coalition members.”
“For me, threats are not a work plan,” Ben Barak added. “This is not my way or the way of the Yesh Atid party.”
Meanwhile, in the opposition, United Torah Judaism head MK Moshe Gafni, spoke out against the reforms as well. “I hope that people will stand behind their commitments all these years regarding raising the retirement age for women, imports in agriculture, and the regulatory reform,” he said. “I wholeheartedly hope that they will vote according to their conscience, and that it will come out of the Arrangements Law.”
Over the weekend, an agreement was reached to remove some 30% of the draft legislation of the Economic Arrangements Law. However, many of those were seen as decoys (known in Hebrew as “goats”) that were known to be controversial and expected to be thrown out while taking the attention away from other proposals.
The coalition is working to deliver a final version to Knesset by August 31 so deliberations can start before the High Holidays recess begins. When the Knesset resumes in October, it will have to approve the budget in three readings by November 4 or the government will be automatically dissolved. Obtaining a majority of 61 to approve the budget will require everyone in the coalition to be on board, something that currently seems unlikely.
Many more elements will likely be changed or removed before the final version is approved. Israel has not had a budget in more than three years, and the Economic Arrangements Law under consideration is seen as perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching ever.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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