The Israeli government recently announced a series of reforms seeking to lower food prices. However, the changes will result in a massive influx of foreign produce, which could hurt local farmers and the domestic agricultural industry more broadly. Last week, farmers came together in the Israeli town of Avivim to protest the reforms, signaling growing friction between farmers and the Israeli government. Going forward, the Israeli government must work with farmers to identify an appropriate solution rather than applying unilateral reforms without consultation.

According to news reports, approximately 1000 Israeli farmers protested the proposed reforms in Avivim, a border town near Lebanon. Numerous farmers threatened to cross the border into Lebanon and commit “collective suicide” as part of the protest. Thus far, the Israeli army and police have managed to prevent any border crossings and suicides. But, Israeli farmers are growing increasingly upset with the government as the administration continues to push forward its proposed agricultural reforms. Across the country, farmers also blocked several key junctions and threw away produce in protest.

The proposed reforms, announced by Israel’s finance and agriculture ministers on July 21, aim to lower domestic food prices and the overall cost of living by gradually reducing import restrictions and duties on select agricultural imports from abroad. However, Israeli farmers fear that introducing duty-free imports into the Israeli produce market will harm and potentially even destroy the domestic agricultural industry, which will also result in higher food prices. The reforms were introduced as part of the Arrangement Bill, which is a critical component of Israel’s annual budget. The changes will mainly impact egg, fruit, and vegetable producers. According to the Israeli treasury, the price of these items has risen by 80% over the past several years. However, Israeli farmers assert that they are not responsible for the rise in prices. Instead, they state that price hikes have are ramifications of increased water costs and growing concentration in Israel’s food market, allowing intermediaries and supermarkets to accrue significant profits while Israeli farmers suffer.

As per the latest draft of the Arrangement Bill, Israeli farmers will receive total direct subsidies of $129 million a year to compensate them for increased competition. Subsidies will be apportioned based on the amount of land a farmer owns. Farmers will also receive tax benefits and support to import foreign workers, introduce productivity-boosting methods, and increase agricultural research and development. However, Israel’s farmers remain skeptical that these measures will help them weather the damage of the proposed reforms.

Over the past few years, farmers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the Israeli government and its agricultural reforms. Notably, however, farmers have not expressed total opposition to any food import reforms. Instead, they demand that the government works with them to identify a solution rather than establish a unilateral one that will ultimately harm livelihoods while boosting the profits of retail chains and importers.

The proposed changes will radically undermine Israel’s agricultural industry, hurt the livelihoods of Israel’s already financially precarious farmers, and fail to address the root cause of rising food prices in the country. In addition, the reforms will also increase Israel’s dependence on other countries for its food supplies, which could prove problematic if Israel is subject to foreign sanctions or boycotts in the future.

Farmers across Israel are coming together to protest the government’s proposed food import reforms. Although the government claims these reforms will help reduce food prices in the country, these changes will significantly damage the Israeli agricultural industry and hurt Israel’s farmers. The Israeli government must consult with farmers to identify a solution that helps address Israel’s high cost of living while also protecting its farmers.

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