The Bitter Honey

The high price of living is not the only troubling thing this High Holy Day season; the level of services we receive from the large government monopolies is one huge disgrace.

If one ritual is observed by all segments of the Jewish people on the eve of the New Year it is the eating of apples with honey. This rite expresses the yearning for a New Year as sweet as honey. Why then are the apple and the honey so expensive that their sweetness leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth?

The answer is simple: We don't have a free market - neither for honey, nor for apples.

Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg
Ofer Vaknin

The Honey Council protects honey producers, not the Jewish people. Thanks to the council, a ridiculous tax of NIS 17 per kilogram is imposed on imported honey. This allows local producers to jack up prices without any worries. And once they are done, large marketing chains inflate prices even more, with the bottom line being that the price of honey in Israel is twice that of the cost of honey in Britain, and three times its cost in the United States. And apples are expensive, too, because a draconian duty is also imposed on them, thereby preventing imports.

So is it any wonder that apples and honey are such rare delicatessen items?

In order to reduce these prices (which are representative of all food and industrial products), all these import duties must be abolished. Free import from all parts of the globe should be allowed. But were this to be done, the honey producers would stand up and exclaim: They are harming us; they are making us close up shop; they are throwing us out on the street.

There is a clear answer to this lament: Some honey producers would in fact lose their line of work and be forced to find employment elsewhere, but others would become more efficient and produce a diverse line of products, and succeed in competition with imported honey - and perhaps even begin to export their wares.

In the final analysis, employment in Israel would actually be strengthened. As a result of the drop in the cost of honey, the public would have more expendable income. This would lead to a rise in consumption, and manufacturers would search for additional workers in order to meet this increase in demand. The main thing is that the quality of life for all sectors of the public, including the weaker strata, rises the moment product prices fall.

Most people in Israel believe that the largest honey producer in Israel, Yad Mordechai (which controls 60% of the market, and is thus basically a monopoly ), is owned by Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. That sounds logical. But the Elite company (Strauss, today ) acquired control of Yad Mordechai's honey enterprise in 2003. Elite controls a 51% share of the honey production, whereas Kibbutz Yad Mordechai controls just 49%.

This phenomenon characterizes the food sector as a whole: The large companies purchase more and more small firms, and thereby augment their power, along with their ability to raise prices to increase profits. In recent years, Strauss purchased chocolate producer Max Brenner and Kfar Saba Biscuit. The huge Osem conglomerate purchased Tivol, Bonjour and Beit Hashita Preserves. Tnuva purchased Maadanot, Harduf, Tirat Zvi and Olivia. And as competition in the markets decreases, food prices for consumers go up.

But the high price of living is not the only troubling thing this High Holy Day season; the level of services we receive from the large government monopolies is one huge disgrace. Early this week, for example, Israel Railways workers did not hesitate to prevent the festive opening of a new line at Rishon Letzion. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, accompanied by five mayors, waited on the platform, and the train failed to arrive. The minister's face went pale; the workers did not allow the train to move, as though it were their own private property.

The railroad's management wants the new cars' maintenance to be provided by their manufacturer. This arrangement would ensure warranty service, cost savings and a high level of safety. After all, we have yet to forget the series of malfunctions and accidents that have occurred recently on the railroad tracks. But the workers object to any outside element gaining employment in the rail system. This being the case, how can the service be made more efficient and less costly?

The same day, Sunday, workers of the Israel Airports Authority ceased operations at Ben-Gurion International Airport for an hour, due to various objections regarding management. Passengers who were stuck in planes began to shout in anger, and hundreds of others waited dejectedly alongside the non-functioning baggage claim carousels. Flight departures were delayed, and passengers missed connections. In this instance as well, management, and the public at large, took a low blow.

Once again, it has been shown that monopolies, cartels and high import duties are bad for citizens. Should the Trajtenberg Committee manage to break up the monopolies and annul these duties, we will eat apples and honey that are actually sweet next Rosh Hashanah.