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Israel’s farmers are planning a country-wide protest and wide-ranging political battle against one of the latest reforms announced by the “government for change,” Behadrey Haredim reports.

Last week, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Agriculture Minister Oded Forer (both of Yisrael Beytenu) announced their intention to cancel import tariffs on fruits and vegetables within five years, claiming that this will significantly cut prices for consumers. Farmers’ organizations immediately voiced their objections, claiming in turn that the move would wipe out Israeli agriculture, which is already struggling to stay afloat.

The protest planned now by Israeli farmers is to be titled, “Don’t Kill Us.”

“Do you know how much Liberman’s plan will save the average family per month?” says Pini Serizde, a tomato grower from the northern Negev. “72 shekels. That’s it! If they really want to cut prices, they should cancel all the myriad tariffs and taxes the government imposes, rather than opening the market to foreign produce.

“People need to understand what the problem really is here,” he adds. “Given the current situation, what Liberman intends to do won’t help anyone. He wants to create savings of 870 shekels per year for the average family – at the expense of the farmers who are the backbone of the state. And if the ports strike, then where’s he going to bring his fruits and vegetables from?”

Seridze also points out that “entire industries are based around Israeli farming. We have transportation companies, packing companies, plastics and all kinds of other industries that are interconnected. And he wants to destroy all that for 870 shekels per year. No one is looking at the big picture,” he says.

“Go to one of the chain stores – any of them. Find out how much they pay for their tomatoes, and how much they sell them for. The chain stores buy tomatoes for three shekels per kilo,” he reveals, “and they sell them for six or even up to ten shekels per kilo – and then they come to me and complain that I’m responsible for the high prices? I’m just trying to survive!

“Why doesn’t anyone complain about what Tnuva is doing?” he continues. “They sell Magnum ice cream for 12 shekels apiece. Why does no one complain about supermarkets who sell bottles of cola for ten shekels each? Why is no one talking about bread prices, or the price of toilet paper or tuna fish? All they talk about is vegetables.”

Shimon Biton has been farming for over 30 years; he raises poultry in a farm near the Lebanese border. He describes the distress he feels as Israeli farmers are portrayed in the media as public enemies.

“Crop prices rose all over the world this year,” he says. “We absorb the increased costs and don’t say a word, but then they start to attack us, as if it’s all our fault.

“I sell chicken eggs for 45 agorot each,” he says, “and then they sell them in the chain stores for double that, or more – a shekel each. The big stores are just getting stronger and stronger, and they’re even buying up aviation companies – and no one says a word. But the farmer, who works hard just to feed his family, is viewed as the enemy.

“It’s very hard to work with the chain stores here,” he adds. “They’re a cartel and they fix prices. Farmers – especially those in the periphery communities – aren’t capable of standing up to them. We send them quality produce and they claim it’s inferior and only agree to pay a low price for it. And there’s no choice but to accept their terms – what else can we do?”

Biton notes that in France, the government has instituted laws to protect the farmers as well as the consumers. “There, the stores are obligated to state the price they paid the farmers for the produce, alongside the price they charge,” he says. “We could do that too. But what Liberman wants to do spells a death sentence for Israeli farmers as well as to many communities on the northern border.”