With pasta and other leavened dishes off limits, and rice and legumes banned among Jews of Ashkenazic (European) descent, it's been the fate of the potato to be the star of the Passover menu. With most carbohydrate-based side dishes set aside for the duration of Passover, many Israeli households stock up on potatoes in advance of Passover, with spuds fried, pureed, sliced, diced, mashed, and otherwise prepared for holiday meals.
As all household economists know only too well, too many customers chasing not enough product is a recipe for higher prices – and that is what has been happening in Israel's potato market of late. Despite heroic efforts by discount market chains to keep the price of spuds down (they've been spied at several of the changes for as little as 1 shekel a kilo – about 14 cents a pound), the average price has been significantly higher.
Contributing to this year's potato price inflation was Israel's relatively dry winter. What potatoes there were on the market were grabbed early by industrial concerns – the french fry makers, instant mash potato companies, and so on – leaving less on the market for consumers.
All of which has led Finance Minister Yair Lapid to use the weight of the government's influence to shake up the potato market. In order to supplement the potato crop, Israel generally allows the importation of about 5,000 tons of potatoes each year, with the imports exempt from customs duties. On Sunday, Lapid signed an order increasing the amount of duty-free potato imports to 11,000 kilos – ensuring, he said, that there will be enough potatoes for one and all on Seder night.