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Sugary drinks expert unmasked as Coca-Cola lobbyist in Knesset

After initially denying connection to industry, Prof. Ardon Rubinstein claims he did not fully hear the question about his payment by the drinks manufacturer

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Prof. Ardon Rubinstein speaks at a hearing of the Knesset Finance Committee, on December 7, 2021. (Screenshot)
Prof. Ardon Rubinstein speaks at a hearing of the Knesset Finance Committee, on December 7, 2021. (Screenshot)

An expert who appeared before a Knesset panel for a discussion on a potential tax on sugary drinks was revealed to be a paid lobbyist for Coca-Cola Tuesday.

Prof. Ardon Rubinstein, a previous chief of the Israel Diabetes Association, appeared before a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee to discuss a proposal to levy a tax on sugary drinks, which he maintains should not be levied on diet soft drinks.

But when asked to disclose any possible conflicts of interests to the panel, Rubinstein initially demurred before admitting that he was being paid by the American beverage behemoth.

“I asked for you to make a full disclosure and I did not hear it,” Yisrael Beytenu MK Alex Kushnir told Rubinstein at the start of his appearance.

The professor and physician replied that he “is appearing here, and I hope I will be paid at the end of it for what I’m doing.”

Kushnir replied that Rubinstein’s answer was incomplete, pressing: “Do you have any business connection to companies that manufacture sugary drinks?”

Rubinstein responded that he does not, and also said he had never been paid for any research. He said he was appearing at the panel as a doctor who runs a diabetes clinic for asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv.

But other MKs then pressed Rubinstein to explain what payment he expected to receive for his appearance at the Knesset. Rubinstein initially said he would be paid “by the industry,” but admitted he was being paid for his appearance by Coca-Cola after being pressed further.

Finance Committee chairman Alex Kushnir leads a committee meeting, in the Knesset, on December 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a statement to the Calcalist news site, Rubinstein said that he did not hear Kushnir’s questions correctly since he is “hard of hearing and a wounded IDF veteran.”

The doctor told the panel that he is opposed to including a tax on diet sodas, which he believes would harm those with diabetes or who are overweight. He said he believes that diet sodas are a good alternative, since children and others do not want to drink water and should have access to sweetened drinks without sugar.

“I would work to advance this goal even without payment,” Rubinstein told Calcalist, claiming that he was only being paid a minimal amount by Coca-Cola for his efforts.

The Knesset hearing on the issue of taxing sugary drinks ended after four hours without a decision or a vote. An additional hearing is slated to be held soon.

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