Cabinet Minister Blasts Netanyahu for Being 'In the Service of Foreign Tycoons'

Row erupts in cabinet meeting between prime minister and Transportation Minister Katz – the reason? Uber.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eats fruits and nuts as he marks Tu Bishvat, during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 24, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eats fruits and nuts as he marks Tu Bishvat, during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 24, 2016. Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

An acrimonious verbal dispute erupted between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz at the cabinet meeting on Sunday. 

The reason for the row, heated enough for the two to shout angrily at each other, was the prime minister's intentions to allow the American Uber ride-booking service to open shop in Israel. 

Two officials who attended the meeting said that the spat started after Netanyahu discussed the World Economic Forum in Davos, which he attended, and mentioned that he met the CEO of Uber, which lets people use a smartphone app to book and pay for a private car service. When Netanyahu told Katz that he wants to discuss Uber's entry into the Israeli market soon, Katz was infuriated.

"You're comming to tell this to me? Me who opened [Israel's] skies to competition, and the ports and the train. I have no problem with Uber, on condition they operate under the framework of the law. The service Uber wants to introduce is problematic because it us uncompetitive, and in Israel even more so because of security issues.

"You want it to be possible for a man to take you in his car to Nablus in the middle of the night?" he asked Netanyahu, and added another barb: "You want it – you take care of it. I'm not the one who's a servant of foreign tycoons."

Though Katz was referring to the owners of Uber, ministers understood his comment as a gibe at the close ties between Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson, the American casino mogul and owner of the Israel Hayom daily.

An official present at the meeting said Netanyahu was shocked by Katz's remark. "You speak as if I knew him (the Uber CEO) in advance," Netanyahu said. "Your problem is that you're pro-competition, but not when it's in your territory."

Katz responded defensively, saying that the prices in the taxi market are regulated. "That's exactly what I'm talking about," Netanyahu retorted. "I don't want regulated prices. I want to lower prices through competition." 

The fight took a good few minutes, and fellow minister chimed in. Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz jeered: "You're angry now that you think they're trying to take your authority from you?" Gila Gamliel, minister of senior citizen affairs, attempted to lower the tone of the debate. "It isn't proper to fight like this at a cabinet meeting. The two of you should meet and discuss this separately," she said.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett backed Netanyahu, expounding in favor of competition. "I opened psychometric English classes for competition and it lowered prices," he said. 

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