Toward the end of last year, Israel signed an historic agreement with Lebanon, enabling both countries to enjoy an abundance of natural gas located deep below their respective territorial waters.
Now, Israel can continue exploring its northern Karish gas field without the risk of Hezbollah missiles overhead. And Israel will receive indirect royalties from Lebanon’s Kana field – with no peace treaty (yet), royalties will be paid via a third country. Add that to potential revenues from Israel’s other natural gas finds in the Mediterranean, and there’s the opportunity of Israel replacing Russia as Europe’s main natural gas provider. Israel will become more than just the land of milk and honey.
Optimistic forecasts of a natural gas Sovereign Wealth Fund are for billions of shekels in tax revenue. Trusting that the new ruling gas triumvirate – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Energy Minister Israel Katz – will optimize our natural gas and its wealth fund, then Israel becomes the land of milk, honey, natural gas and an overflowing wealth fund.
Hopefully, Lebanon’s natural gas opportunity will help their economy. Then it, too, will be a country overflowing in natural gas and with its own wealth fund.
Israel’s 2022 inflation rate was 5.3%, its highest since 2008. Within the OECD, Israel had the third lowest rate, behind Japan’s 3.0% and Switzerland’s 3.3%. How’s that for our little shtetl! Can’t even compare these rates with the much poorer performing OECD countries such as Estonia at 23.6%, Lithuania at 24.1% and Turkey at 83.5% (yikes!).
Israel’s rate was even lower than the 6.3% of Canada, whose neighbour to the south experienced a similar level. As for Israel’s neighbours, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were at 4.4% and 3.3% respectively … pretty good. Egypt suffered a 24.4% inflation rate, Syria a rate of 105% and Lebanon 189.4%, one of the highest in the world! Israel, the land of milk, honey and competitive inflation rates.
Then there’s the judicial reforms bonanza. Israel’s new justice minister, Yariv Levin, is looking to overhaul the system by granting the government – through a simple majority vote – the right to overturn High Court decisions and by giving politicians more power in appointing Supreme Court judges. Detractors are concerned this gives the government way too much say over legal matters and threatens our democracy. Supporters – largely those who voted for the new government – believe these changes will strengthen the legislature’s ability to enact the will of the electorate. Theirs, anyway.
Karnit Flug and Stanley Fischer, former Bank of Israel governors, are firmly in the former camp. They’re concerned these reforms will harshly undermine the High Court’s authority and concentrate too much power with the government, hurting Israel’s sovereign credit rating, destabilizing the economy and reducing the standard of living.
Netanyahu – the free market czar who revolutionized Israel’s economy as finance minister and who extracted natural gas from our sea as prime minister – believes his judicial reforms will rejuvenate the economy by reducing excess regulation and judicialization.
Adding to the festivities. Israel’s anti-reform (and largely anti-government) movement had its third weekly 100,000-person protest in Tel Aviv last month. A sea of people storming the city square, waving flags of blue and white, singing folk songs and Hatikvah and shouting slogans of support for the high judges. Israel, the land of milk, honey and a real judicial balagan.
It’s here! 7-Eleven opened its first store in Israel. In downtown Tel Aviv (of course), with plans to roll out hundreds of branches throughout our little shtetl over the coming years. Hello, Slurpees! Those multi-coloured slushies were a staple of my Canadian childhood. Although now I am more a fan of the fresh Dole bananas sold at the stores in the United States and Japan, which I’d buy as a healthy snack while on overseas business trips. Looking inward, does this mean the demise of Israel’s famous mom-and-pop stores, found in neighbourhoods across the country, the Bella’s and Yankela’s, which add to Israel’s heimishe-like atmosphere? That would be a pity! Israel becoming the land of milk, honey, Slurpees … and Dole bananas.
On a much lighter note, what about Israel’s maple syrup revolution? It was once only available from specialty food stores, and at an exorbitant price. But what’s a poor Canadian immigrant to do? I paid the ransom and our family enjoyed Shabbat morning French toast, pancakes and waffles. Whenever visiting Canada, I stocked up with the stuff, packing carefully bubble-wrapped bottles of both real and imitation maple syrup into my suitcase.
But, thanks to free trade. Real maple syrup – the organic kind from Canada – became super cheap in Israel, even less expensive than in Canada! And it’s available everywhere, even at Bella’s and Yankela’s. Now when I return to Canada, I take back Canadian maple syrup as gifts. Dare I say it … Israel, the land of milk, honey and Canadian Maple Syrup, eh.
Bruce Brown is a Canadian and an Israeli. He made aliyah … a long time ago. He works in Israel’s high-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Brown is the winner of the 2019 AJPA Rockower Award for excellence in writing, and wrote the 1998 satire An Israeli is…. Brown reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal.