There Was a Price, and Now It's Gone

It's amazing to see four MKs constantly raising the banner of consumer rights sponsor a bill canceling price labeling.

It's been a while since the treasury suffered such a shameful failure. The Budgets Department was asleep on its watch, and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz didn't even come to the meeting.

That's how a few ministers from Yisrael Beiteinu succeeded in pushing past the Ministerial Committee for Legislation a strange bill sponsored by their party colleague Moshe Matalon that would annul one of Israel's most important consumer-protection laws ever - the law requiring a price label on every individual item.

That's what the party of Sofa Landver, Stas Misezhnikov and Yitzhak Aharonovitch considers social justice. They are anti-consumer, preferring to take the side of the large chains. They probably don't even know that the original pricel-labeling law that passed in 1998 was the result of a lengthy battle by then-Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky, one of their own, who at the time chaired the Yisrael b'Aliyah party.

It has become so easy to pull one over on our ministers and MKs that it's embarrassing. They are fed partial, deceptive and tendentious information, and it's enough for them. They then go ahead and submit a bill that would be fatal to consumers.

That's because consumers have no lobbyists, they have no one to protect them. They don't have meetings with MKs, they're just anonymous taxpayers.

Thus Hagai Shalom, the owner of the Tiv Taam supermarket chain, was able to meet with Economic Affairs Committee chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen, and after some polite chitchat was able to convince him to support a bill that would cancel the requirement to put a price on every product. Instead, there would be a small electronic screen displaying the price on the shelf.

Shalom didn't tell Shama-Hacohen that the moment there is a system of electronic screens in place, he could, at the flick of a finger, change all the prices in his stores at the speed of light.

If the radio announcer suddenly says that rain has started to fall in the north, Shalom, with a few keystrokes, could double the price of umbrellas in his stores. If there is an announcement that the price of gasoline or electricity is going up, Shalom could, with the greatest of ease, jump on the "rising prices" bandwagon, thus reinforcing the price hikes and causing inflation. That's great for the supermarket chain, but bad for consumers.

Shalom is not alone. All the large chains are enthusiastic supporters of the bill.

They are waiting with baited breath for the day when none of us know how much cottage cheese, a can of corn or a package of pasta cost. They know that without individual pricing, once we take it off the shelf, an item becomes essentially "priceless."

We will not be able to compare it to any other product in the supermarket. When we get to the register we won't know if the price we are being charged is the same as that which appeared on the shelf. Who's going to be able to remember every price?

And that's not even the end of it. Once you get home you won't be able to compare a product you bought at Tiv Taam to the exact same product you bought the other day from Rami Levy. You won't be able to compare a product that you bought today to one that you bought last week. That means that manufacturers and store owners can raise their prices and make us look like fools, which is, of course, their ultimate goal.

The supermarket chains understand that last summer's cottage-cheese protest could never have broken out if there hadn't been a price label on every single item. Only through such labeling were consumers able to discern the constant, aggravating hike in cottage-cheese prices. The price was in plain sight every time they opened a container of cottage cheese. Finally, a man named Itzik Alrov decided he'd had enough and started the rebellion. Retailers hate people like Alrov.

It's amazing to see that four MKs who are constantly raising the banner of consumer rights are the ones who sponsored the bill to cancel price labeling, which passed a preliminary reading last week. How did the lobbyists convince Matalon, Shama-Hacohen, Yoel Hasson and Yulia Shamalov Berkovich to do it? What were they promised?

Fortunately, Shama-Hacohen has reconsidered and is now against the bill. Hasson is also against, after he came to understand what he had signed onto. And most importantly, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat has appealed the decision by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which will have to debate the bill again.

Now the ball is in Steinitz's court. He has to appear before the committee and save consumers from the long arm of the tycoons.

Read this article in Hebrew