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In advance of hearings before the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee regarding amendments to the deposit law on beverage containers, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva, v'Din) is contending that purported ties between the Shas party and the drink manufacturers constitute a conflict of interest which precludes representatives from the party from participating in the hearings on the bill.

The environmental NGO approached committee chairman Ofir Akunis (Likud) and Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) last week with a request to bar Shak MKs from participating in Economic Affairs Committee hearings on the bill due to be held tomorrow.

The request follows a report last week in Haaretz that the Central Bottling Company advertised one of its products, Carlsberg beer, through a calendar featuring large pictures of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. In addition, the kashrut supervision for the product is provided by "Badatz Beit Yosef," which in the past had been managed by one of Rabbi Yosef's sons as well as by current housing and construction minister Ariel Atias of Shas, among others. The use of Rabbi Yosef's picture was seen as an effort to promote sales of the beer following the granting of its kashrut certification.

The Central Bottling Company is a leading player on behalf of beverage producers and importers in opposition to the expansion of the current deposit law, particularly with respect to requiring deposits on large bottles. Shas, too, has regularly opposed imposing deposits on large bottles. Recently senior sources at the Environmental Protection Ministry have acknowledged that opposition from Shas was one of the factors that led the ministry to come to an agreement recently with the beverage industry that excluded large bottles from the deposit law and absolved the industry from direct responsibility for collecting smaller beverage containers on which deposits were required. The agreement was struck between Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and Central Bottling Company chairman Ronnie Kobrovsky.

Erdan said yesterday that the agreement he reached with the beverage industry does not constitute a concession on the issue of collection and recycling of large beverage containers. "I agreed to this step," he said, "so that we can advance a comprehensive law on collection and recycling of packaging waste, and in that context large containers will also be collected in the framework of collection and recycling quota for plastic packaging."

Shas MKs have opposed expansion of the current deposit law to include a 25 agorot deposit on large bottles as an unjustified added economic burden on the public in general, and on large families in particular. Shas spokesman Roi Lachmanovich said in response to an inquiry from IUED: "The Shas movement has been leading the opposition to the deposit law for more than a decade, as is reflected in the minutes of the Knesset and its committees. There is no connection whatsoever between the Shas movement and Badatz Beit Yosef, all of whose affairs are in the area of kashrut, and any question regarding which should be directed to them. Any cynical attempt to connect the Shas political system with the beverage company as a factor in decision-making apparently shows more than a hint of slander. The only consideration facing the Shas movement and its leaders is consumer-related and avoiding a financial burden on the Israeli citizen."

In response to the issue, Michael Elhadad of Badatz Beit Yosef said: "Badatz works completely independently and without any connection with the Shas movement."

A spokesman for the Central Bottling Company issued a statement saying: "The Central [Bottling] Company is proud of the certification from Badatz Beit Yosef, just as it is proud of certification from other kashrut bodies. Beyond that, the company does not find it proper to react to bizarre complaints."