Idit Silman distributed soft drinks to hospital patients on her first day as Israel’s new minister of environmental protection.
In Israel, where soft drinks and single-use plates, cups, and cutlery have become weapons in a culture war between the nation’s secular Jewish majority and the smaller but politically potent religious minority, the gesture had a profound symbolic resonance.
For a large portion of the populace, last year’s levy on plastic products seemed like an easy solution to reduce the consumption of items that are significant sources of pollution.
However, many ultra-Orthodox Jews regarded the increased price as a challenge to a way of life that depended on the practicality of throwaway items to relieve the difficulties of managing their big households.
The ultra-Orthodox parties have a significant role in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, which is the most right-wing in Israel’s history and has rushed to repeal the plastics tax.
His Cabinet decided to remove the tax on Sunday, which will now go before the entire parliament for expected final approval.
Finance Minister and head of the Religious Zionism Party Bezalel Smotrich declared, “We promised, and we delivered. “We are all engaged in the battle against the expense of life.”
When Netanyahu and his religious allies were in the opposition in 2021, then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s administration approved a tax on highly sugary drinks as a public health measure to reduce rising obesity and diabetes rates, as well as the tax on single-use plastics as a way of reducing plastic pollution.
Before the November parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies made repealing those taxes one of their top priorities.
Another coalition agreement between Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox supporters would repeal a refundable plastic bottle deposit enacted last year.
According to the United Nations Environment Program, plastic waste is dumped into the ocean at one garbage truck full per minute, making it “one of the major environmental scourges of our day.”
Plastics can harm ecosystems significantly, take decades to disintegrate, and contain chemicals that are hazardous to living things.
Single-use plastics are widely used in Israel. According to a report from the Environmental Protection Ministry published in 2021, Israeli usage of single-use plastics increased significantly between 2009 and 2019.
The average annual weight per person was reported to be 7.5 kilograms (16 pounds), which is five times the norm for Europe.
According to the report, single-use plastics make up an estimated 90% of the rubbish on Israel’s coastline and 19% of the litter in public areas, posing a severe threat to the ecology.
But Netanyahu’s supporters in the Haredi community, who are ultra-Orthodox, are jubilant about the anticipated removal of the plastic levy.
According to ultra-Orthodox political expert Yisrael Cohen, disposable plasticware has significantly influenced the Haredi way of life in Israel over the past few decades.
Households use disposable plasticware with an average of six children for huge Sabbath celebrations and weekday meals to save time on dishwashing.
Single-use plasticware is required in Jewish seminaries where ultra-Orthodox men learn and eat their meals.
It’s an entire institution, an industry, he declared. “The Haredi community can benefit greatly from using single-use plastic.”
These levies symbolized what ultra-Orthodox MPs saw as the previous administration’s assault on their way of life.
They were widely referred to as “decrees” directed towards the religious minority by the then-secular finance minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in Haredi media.
According to Cohen, “Lieberman has been seen as the one who took on the ultra-Orthodox on every subject. “This was painted as something that automatically targets the Haredim.”
Environmental organizations claim that during 2022, the year the fee was in place, the usage of single-use plastic decreased by 30%.