Yesterday, Israel’s cabinet passed its first reform of the new Knesset, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced afterwards: “The goal of the reform that we approved today is to lower the prices of flights to and from Israel and to increase incoming tourism… We will continue to advance reforms to lower the cost of living and increase the efficiency of services to Israeli citizens.”
The reform in question was the signing of the so-called Open Skies agreement with the European Union, which will increase competition in flights to and from Europe and, it is expected, bring down the price of flights.
The cabinet’s resolution has prompted a strike by Israel’s three airlines, which has meant that thousands of people scheduled to travel are unable to do so. The strikers, backed by the Israeli trade union movement, say that the agreement will put Israeli carriers at a disadvantage and lead to the loss of Israeli jobs.
There are pros and cons to the Open Skies agreement. But what should be noted is that it is being billed as the first big achievement of the new government in bringing down the cost of living — a priority placed on the political agenda by the social protest movement.
In the summer of 2011, a Facebook campaign protested the high price of cottage cheese in Israel. Within a few weeks thousands of Israelis were in tents and out on the streets protesting the overall cost of living.
And so today, as the social protests become a distant memory that left Israel the legacy of Finance Ministry Yair Lapid who triumphed electorally on the promise of lower living costs, and as the prices in supermarkets, including the price of cottage cheese, creep back up, those Israelis who can afford to fly are promised that the cost of their air travel will drop.
Never mind “let them eat cake.” In Jerusalem they declare “let them eat airline meals.”