Palestinian Meat Boycott Leaves Israeli Farmers in the Red

Surprise ban saddles industry with big losses, spurs call for government to act

Calves at an Israeli cattle farm in Kibbutz Nir, August 8, 2019.
\ Eyal Toueg

Boycotts usually produce a lot of losers, but in the case of the ban imposed by the Palestinian Authority since the middle of last month, there has been one big winner: Thousands of calves that had been destined for slaughter and served up as the entrée at Palestinian meals have been given a reprieve.

With any warning, the PA ordered a boycott of calves brought in from Israel and that has left Israeli farmers with herds of unsold livestock numbering in the thousands. For the calves that means a few extra months of life, but for the cattlemen it’s a big financial blow.

The Palestinian boycott only applied to calves; other agricultural products brought in from Israel continue to be traded freely.

They will have to keep feeding the calves at an average cost of about 300 shekels (about $85) a month per animal, which can add up to a lot of money for a ranch with 100 head of cattle. The lost revenue comes on average to 6,000 shekels per animal.

Several Israeli ranchers say their customers, meat dealers from the West Bank, have not paid them for calves delivered before the boycott came into effect deepening their losses even more.

Dror Binyamini, a cattleman from Moshav Nahalal, claims that the damage to Israel agricultural is two-fold.

The first is that cattlemen are being forced to hold on to herds because they have no one to sell them to in Israel. The reason is that the Israeli meat market is a duopoly controlled by the companies Dabah Salah & Sons and Tnuva and they rely entirely on imported beef.

Binyamini said Israeli cattlemen could survive without the Palestinian market, but they need a year to ready themselves. “We can adjust to any situation, but not for a surprise, unilateral move. Right now there are 400 businesses that are going to go bankrupt. Tnuva and Dabah won’t buy from us because they have a year’s worth of inventory booked,” he said.

The second is connected to the financial structure of the industry, which is based on long-term credit. Now that there is no Israeli meat entering the PA, the Palestinian dealers don’t have sales or cash flow to cover their debt. Meanwhile, said Binyamini, the price of fresh meat in the PA has soared by more than 30%.

An Israeli government source speculated that the price increase was what the PA wants, in order to help Palestinian ranchers charge higher prices in the absence of Israeli competition.Since he was appointed PA prime minister last April, Mohammad Shtayyeh, an economist by training, has been leading a campaign to disengage economically from Israel. He talks about it in speeches frequently, although in practice the only boycott of Israel that he has ordered is on calves. Fresh produce, dairy products and other farm products remain unaffected.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his director general, Shai Babad, are in talks with the PA on a range of bilateral economic issues, including debts owned Israel Electric Corporation, the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli hospitals and tax money Israel collects in the name of the PA.

Israeli cattlemen have lobbied the finance and agriculture ministries and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Economic Council to add beef to the agenda. Last week, dozens of Israeli farmers drove to the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence in a protest convoy.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, has threatened the PA with countermeasures.

“Israel will not allow boycotts of any kind against Israeli products. Due to the PA’s unilateral decision, which is hurting the economies of both sides, and a number of appeals from various quarters to find a solution, I am warning that if the status quo ante isn’t restored we will not permit many Palestinian agricultural products from entering Israel,” he said earlier this week.