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Earth and taxes: What the press is saying about Israel’s plan in Glasgow

Of the two things on Bennett’s mind as he heads to Glasgow, global warming appears to be the third; the (plastic) knives are out, and more houses are in

Education Minister Naftali Bennett visits a school in Tel Aviv on May 10, 2016. (Yaacov Cohen/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett visits a school in Tel Aviv on May 10, 2016. (Yaacov Cohen/Flash90)

Glasgow calling: The world’s eyes are turned to Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit kicking off there Monday, and Israel’s media has at least half a peeper facing that way as well.

  • Most Israeli news sites feature previews of the summit as one of their top stories Monday morning — if we count coverage of comments by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who only touched on the climate for a bit before getting on a carbon-spewing plane to Scotland. And COP26 is also on the front pages of all three major dailies, even if only one, Yedioth Ahronoth, really plays it up.
  • “The world is waking up,” reads the paper’s front page headline, which includes a cartoon accompanying the package (as if there were not enough pictures of parched deserts or flooded towns) showing world leaders drowning in an hourglass.
  • Along with that sanguine tone, the paper doesn’t feature either of its two correspondents, who note that Russia’s and China’s absences quite dent the summit’s goals, but rather Moran Broza, a young female Israeli climate activist who is also in Scotland. (The paper uses a picture a picture of Broza with Greta Thornburg, in case the reason it chose her wasn’t clear.)
  • “While all the politicians are gathering in Scotland to try and come up with a global plan, we should remember that we don’t need to wait for them,” she writes, reminding readers that everyone can make the change themselves.
  • That optimism is not far reaching. Kan notes that while major Western countries promised to bring down emissions by 40 to 70 percent by 2030, Israel committed to a piddly 27% and only recently brought up the idea of zero emissions by 2050. “But how will he make his zero-carbon vision a reality? It’s not clear, since we don’t have a climate law that would turn the targets into something you don’t just declare, but actually do. But at least there’s the announcement. That we have.”
  • “The reality is clear, Israel is not doing enough,” top Environmental Protection Ministry official Shuli Nazar tells Army Radio. “Even though we have kept to our targets from the 2015 Paris agreement, we’re still on an upward carbon emissions trend. Today is a chance for a change.”
  • In Haaretz, Lee Yaron writes: “Due to Israel’s lack of action, diplomatic sources and environmental groups hope that Bennett’s attendance at the conference and his plan to present Israel’s modest climate goals could help the prime minister realize the urgency of the crisis. Officials also hope that it will push Bennett to take more substantial action. Thus far, Bennett has only hosted one professional discussion on the matter, which took place ahead of his August meeting with President Joe Biden.”
  • ToI’s Sue Surkes notes that a big part of the meeting will be finding ways to make money talk to polluters, to incentivize greener pathways, but Israel is not sending a single Finance Ministry official.
  • At least others are getting down to business. “The Environmental Protection Ministry is anxious for the country’s banks, financial organizations and insurance companies to integrate climate risks into their investment decisions,” she writes. “[Minister Tamar] Zandberg and her team are hoping that discussions and agreement in Glasgow on financial mechanisms will help the Israeli business delegation at the conference, and the Finance Ministry back home in Israel, better internalize that the world is changing course.”
  • Even if the eggheads and technocrats get their heads on straight, well… Channel 12 news reports on long lines stretching through certain ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods deep into the night Sunday night. Not for great deals on Halloween candy, but great deals on disposable plastic goods, which are being taxed effective Monday morning.
  • “Whole families stood in line for many hours to buy huge amounts of plastics and save thousands of shekels, ahead of the plastic tax, which will double the cost of the most basic good for every Haredi home. Even mutual aid groups and charities got involved to help needy families make purchases at the cheaper prices.”

2. Climate of fear: As for getting the attention of Bennett and others, good luck with that. Israel Hayom lays it out plainest, with a front-page headline reading “The climate in the air and Iran on the table,” noting that Bennett and 119 of his friends may be at the climate confab, but he’s not really there to talk carbon capture technology.

  • “The world came to cold Glasgow to stop the world from heating up, Israel went to stop its cold war [with Iran] from turning hot,” writes the paper’s Ariel Kahana, who also calls the conference the most important of the year.
  • Kahana also claims that Israel’s bombastic statements on Iran, which included an interview Bennett gave the Sunday Times and one top general Tal Kelmen gave a Bahraini paper, are meant for Washington even more than for Tehran. But in Haaretz, Amos Harel says that the US (or Iran) isn’t really paying attention to Israel’s verbal diarrhea: “These remarks won’t change much, just as the image of an American bomber being escorted through the Middle East’s airspace by Israeli and Egyptian planes (separately) won’t make anyone in Tehran tremble with fear.”
  • Iran may be on the agenda when Bennett meets with world leaders, but there’s another matter entirely on his mind as he heads to Scotland. “The prime minister went to the most important conference happening lately in Glasgow, but on the way there forgot somewhat about the earth’s critical problems he’s going to discuss,” writes Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi. “Bennett is focused on the budget. The theoretical option that the budget won’t pass, the government will fall and we’ll go to elections is driving him crazy.”
  • Though many consider the budget pretty much a done deal, politicians and their partisans are continuing to duke it out over the plan on the airwaves, with no shortage of bombast here either. “This is a terrible and harsh budget, full of cuts and tax raises,” former finance minister Israel Katz tells Army Radio. “It includes a reform that I pushed as a minister, but the government has stripped it, because all the money went to Abbas and Hamas.”
  • “There has never been a more social-friendly budget, there wasn’t one thing I requested I didn’t get,” Welfare Minister Meir Cohen tells the same station. “I think it will pass. Despite the arguments, all the ministers understand its importance.”
  • Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev describes the coalition’s approach to the budget to Kan, though he could just as easily be talking about Iran (but not the climate crisis): “We need to keep cool heads, but at the same time not let down our guard. I don’t think it will [get voted down], but chances are, if it doesn’t go, it will be because we weren’t girded, so we are girded.”

3. The rent is too damn high: The government has plenty of issues and internal fights, including a plan, announced Sunday, to bring down housing prices by building new homes like crazy and cutting red tape, among other measures. But Monday’s news arena has a good dose of realism and criticism of the plan.

  • Channel 12’s Noa Reichman, doing a deep dive into the details of the plan, says that the state could have done itself a solid by just looking at property tax rates, which are high for offices and low for residential, leading to a situation in which local councils are actively trying to curb growth since tax revenues do not keep up.
  • “Instead of bypassing the problem and trying to force local councils to build, while paying them for development plans, the government could have raised property taxes and brought down commercial occupancy taxes, and gotten rid of the obstacle altogether.”
  • In the end, she predicts it could have far-reaching effects well down the line, but it probably aims too small: “At the end of the day the government came out with a plan that has no explosive headlines, with no unprecedented commitments or revolutionary ideas,” she writes. “The plan gets into the nitty gritty and tries to create deep reforms in the state planning process, and mostly just deals with the one thing the state has control over: the supply of residential apartments.”
  • In Israel Hayom, columnist Eren Bar-Tal writes that the plan is so modest that it does not even set lowering prices as a goal.
  • “Even if Minister Ayelet Shaked says the plan should at least bring down prices, it isn’t noted as a target,” he writes.
  • One of the biggest criticisms of the plan regards its clampdown on private homes used for Airbnb rentals, and their ilk. But several Airbnb owners tell Walla news that their former tourist units shouldn’t be targeted since the coronavirus killed tourism. Some say the units are now used for long-term rentals anyway, while others don’t think they should be made to suffer more. “If this passes, it’ll hurt my income badly,” one says. “Already because of the virus my income is shot, my apartment doesn’t bring in enough because there’s no tourists, I’m paying out of pocket every month.”
  • But Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin tells Army Radio that only hotel owners should be able to profit off tourist stays: “The tourism market is way down, so the hotel rooms we have are enough. Meanwhile, there’s a huge lack of apartments to rent. The country is obligated to provide housing for young couples who want to rent.”

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