Hike in price-controlled bread announced amid local ‘yellow vest’ protests

Hike in price-controlled bread announced amid local ‘yellow vest’ protests

Days after Israelis rally against rising cost of living, Finance Ministry announces increased prices, but says only challah and sliced black bread will be affected

Illustrative. Baguettes. (via Shutterstock)
Illustrative. Baguettes. (via Shutterstock)

The Finance Ministry on Sunday reached an agreement with major bakeries that would avoid price rises for all price-controlled breads, amid rising social unrest over cost of living increases in Israel.

The agreement does allow, however, for steeper price hikes on a loaf of challah, traditionally eaten on the Sabbath and holidays, which will increase by NIS 0.19, and on and a loaf of sliced black bread, which will increase by NIS 0.26.

In a statement, the ministry stressed the price hikes would not apply to most breads, and those that were, would be implemented under “uniform supervision.”

Last week, bread companies requested permission from the Finance Ministry to raise prices on five types of bread under government price control by 3.4 percent, citing an increase in the inputs indices used to set the rate.

The announcement comes as Israelis across the country have protested a series of price hikes and the increasing cost of living.

A poster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen, as ‘yellow vest’ protests reach Israel, with hundreds marching against the rising cost of living in central Tel Aviv, on December 14, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The country has recently seen a wave of price hikes in electricity, water, gas, and cellphone bills, as well as food, drink, insurance, and property taxes, with an increasing number of companies raising their prices.

On Friday, hundreds of Israelis wearing yellow work vests converged on Tel Aviv to protest the increasing prices, similar to the economic-driven protests rocking France in recent weeks.

Hoping to replicate the success in France and mobilize mass support, as in the 2011 social justice protests, some 600 protesters blocked the Azrieli junction and its adjacent roads, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of “robbing” the people.

At least 10 people were arrested on suspicion of disrupting public order and assaulting police officers.

Many of the protesters held signs and chanted slogans targeting Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who in October approved a dramatic pension increase for police staffers that cost some NIS 20 billion ($5.3 billion), and prompted significant budget cuts for pretty much all ministries and government services.

A protester is arrested by police during demonstrations as ‘yellow vest’ protests reach Israel with hundreds marching against the rising cost of living in central Tel Aviv on December 14, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)

“We are going to the streets to stop the price hikes, to weaken the monopolies, and reduce the cost of living weighing heavily on all Israeli citizens. That is the heart of the struggle,” the protest organizers said in a statement.

Attempting to prevent accusations of using the cost issue to hide a political agenda, the organizers added that “every attempt by politicians — from the left or the right — to appropriate the struggle or its results is doomed to failure. This struggle belongs to the Israeli people, and it will stay that way. The responsibility for changing [the situation] lies with the government.”

But the protest also featured several lawmakers from the opposition Yesh Atid party, with MK Meir Cohen accusing the government of detachment from its citizens over the electricity price hikes ahead of the winter season, and MK Pnina Tamano-Shata saying Netanyahu and Kahlon had “failed.”

A man wearing an Anonymous mask and holding a Star Wars Jedi lightsaber takes part in a ‘yellow vest’ demonstration by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, on December 15, 2018. (Christophe Archambault/AFP)

The “yellow vest” protests in France began on November 17 over fuel tax increases, but snowballed into a revolt over living standards, as well as perceived indifference by President Emmanuel Macron to the problems of ordinary citizens.

Underscoring attempts to ease tensions, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has confirmed that a proposed constitutional reform, which was to be debated in January, has been postponed to allow time for more discussions over local grievances.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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