By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
They didn’t teach economics in my Rabbinic School. Though I’ve learnt one or two new things since my ordination, understanding money hasn’t been one of them, even though fund raising has become an important, perhaps essential, component of being a rabbi. I’m grateful to the congregations I served for judging me by other criteria.
In view of my inability to make sense of economics, I assumed that that’s why I didn’t understand the current debate in Israel about the use of its offshore gas resources: the non-violent gas war. I’ve now learnt that even those called upon to decide weren’t given all the relevant information. Even when after much wrangling the matter was brought before the Knesset, it seems that the members were still left in the dark.
Because (a) three members of the cabinet would choose to stay away from voting by claiming conflict of interest, (b) because at least one Knesset Member (Michael Oren) who would have voted with the government was away promoting his new book that has caused a stir in the United States, and (c) because Avigdor Lieberman, now in fierce opposition to the prime minister, was supposed to get his party to support Netanyahu on this, but in the end didn’t, all the facts had now to be revealed to the whole Knesset and thus to the public.
They show that things are complicated. To add to the complication, Israel’s state comptroller has asked that the Knesset not vote on the matter before his report comes out in a few days’ time. The implication is that he may have serious objections. So there’s now going to be a public hearing.
The issue seems to be whether it’s in the national interest to allow the companies that helped to develop the sites to have a monopoly on the output for many years to come. They may have legal rights to all or much or some of it. However, if a monopoly would punish consumers and not serve the country, it might be necessary to “re-negotiate” or legislate. .
For reasons that aren’t quite clear to me the prime minister doesn’t seem to want this to happen. Netanyahu appears to have wanted the necessary legislation to pass as soon as possible. His trusted sidekick Yuval Steinitz, who’s in charge of the relevant ministry, supports him in this as in all matters. Their argument is that it’s not in the national interest to let this resource linger at the bottom of the sea while politicians argue. By agreeing with them, they maintain, the matter will be resolved.
I read somewhere that his good friend and enthusiastic supporter, the American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, called Netanyahu to tell him to get on with it.
Access to this energy source is, of course, of vital importance for Israel in view of the volatility of this region and because the power of neigbouring oil rich countries. But it’s debatable whether the public should pay more than its worth to keep a few companies happy. Doesn’t an open competitive market normally help consumers?
It’s hoped that the public debate that’s now inevitable will answer this and many other questions. Waiting for evidence that even I’ll be able to understand, I remain suspicious both of government and of big business, especially when they seem to be on the same side. That doesn’t necessarily mean that what the prime minister wants is wrong, but experience of the machinations of people in power gives cause for doubt.