Coalition said reassessing cancellation of sugary drink tax over health concerns

Women’s lobby group within Shas party sends letter to Deri asking him to intervene to keep surcharge in place; tax might only be repealed on diet beverages

Illustrative: Sugary drinks and soda in a supermarket, December 3, 2014.(Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Sugary drinks and soda in a supermarket, December 3, 2014.(Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The government is reassessing a move it backed to cancel a special tax on soft drinks, after calls from Shas party supporters to keep it in place for health reasons, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri is considering asking Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to leave the tax in place for sugary drinks and only end it for diet and zero-sugar drinks, according to the report, which did not cite sources.

In his first act in office last month, Smotrich — a Deri ally — instructed ministry officials to roll back tax hikes on single-use plasticware and sweetened drinks put in place by his predecessor, Avigdor Liberman.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis perceived the tax hikes — aimed at preventing harm to health and to the environment — as targeting them in particular, due to their reliance on such products. The Haredi community includes prime consumers of soft drinks and also plasticware, which, due to their many large families, they prefer to washing the same number of dishes.

However, Deri received a letter from a women’s lobby group within his Shas party that argued sugary drinks are bad for the health of their families. The letter asked that the tax be left in place on sugary drinks.

Last week, leading health scholars wrote in the medical journal The Lancet that abolishing the tax on soft drinks is a “grievous blow to public health” and “seriously tarnishes Israel’s international standing.”

Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri at a party meeting, in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 30, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Deri was initially appointed health and interior minister when the government was established at the end of last year but was fired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January after the High Court ruled that he was not fit to serve as a minister due to his recent conviction for tax offenses.

Deri plans to return to his appointments and the coalition is working on a bill that would enable him to become a minister without court interference.

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