Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Tishrei 5766 - October 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Lulav Shortage Worsens; Cartel Suspected

By Betzalel Kahn

The dire shortage of lulavim in the Daled Minim market continues despite permission by the Ministry of Agriculture to import 600,000 lulavim from Egypt and Jordan. Half of these shipments have yet to arrive and the 300,000 lulavim brought into Eretz Yisroel are being controlled by a cartel trying to monopolize the Daled Minim market.

The shortage caused a sharp rise in prices and many dealers called on the public to hold off their purchases for a few days until the issue is clarified. In the meantime one chareidi dealer managed to import a large quantity of lulavim from Egypt and the Gaza Strip despite the cartel's efforts to block all other imports.

According to a Ministry of Agriculture announcement on Sunday, "The lulav shortage . . . resulting from the cancellation of imports from Egypt was solved through intervention by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Yisrael Katz," who arranged to have 600,000 lulavim brought into the country.

Meir Mizrachi, the Agriculture Ministry's commissioner for plant growth protection services, reported that 300,000 lulavim have already arrived in Israel and are ready for sale after undergoing tests by his department. Another 150,000 lulavim have already received import licenses after the orchards in Jordan were tested, and another 150,000 are expected to arrive from Egypt.

But a Yated Ne'eman investigation found that the first 300,000 lulavim from Egypt belong to a single importer who managed to cause an artificial shortage in the lulav market by preventing other dealers from purchasing lulavim from the enormous el-Arish orchards in Egypt and possibly in Jordan as well.

Based on information provided by Daled Minim dealers to Yated, it appears that the individual in question, who faces criminal charges for creating a lulav cartel a few years ago and whose trial in that matter is still underway, managed through deceit to gain control of the entire lulav market in Egypt, creating an unprecedented monopoly.

The shortage also has a direct effect on the Daled Minim market in the US. Many dealers who exported esrogim and haddasim to the US recently encountered an exceptionally high return rate because they could not include lulavim in their Daled Minim packages.

Furthermore, one of the leading dealers in the US, a man from Lakewood who purchased 200,000 lulavim from this individual, paid tens of thousands of dollars several weeks ago yet has not received a single lulav. The importer claims the shipment got lost at sea, yet it appears that the same lulavim were sold to another dealer in the US who did receive the merchandise.

A New York beis din run by Yeshivas Beis Yosef and headed by HaRav Yaakov Chaim Yaffen issued a restraining order late last week forbidding the sale of these lulavim pending a proper inquiry in order to ensure that the public does not unwittingly transgress the sin of gezeiloh by using stolen lulavim.

Meanwhile, the 150,000 lulavim the Agriculture Ministry said would arrive from Jordan are no longer expected to arrive. Moments after the arrival of the dealer who obtained permission to import lulavim from an enormous orchard belonging to one of the members of the royal family in Jordan, an inexplicable government order suddenly arrived, forbidding the harvest for no apparent reason.

The dealer says he suspects that one of the dealers in Israel used various connections to prevent the import as part of efforts to create an artificial shortage. This same dealer tried to import lulavim from Iraq through a Jordanian middleman, but the Ministry of Agriculture banned the deal since the orchards there could not be inspected before the harvest.

Chareidi public figures have been trying to persuade the Egyptian authorities to permit the export of lulavim from el-Arish. On Sunday MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni spoke with the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Minister's Office to demand that they apply pressure on the Egyptian authorities to permit the import of larger quantities of lulavim. After the Ministry of Agriculture reported that, "600,000 lulavim would be brought into Israel," the Agriculture Ministry asked the Foreign Ministry to stop applying pressure on the Egyptians. Yet it appears the pressure is still needed and the possibility of involving ranking officials from both countries is under consideration.

Heavy pressure was also applied on the Israeli Agriculture Ministry recently to grant a single dealer an exclusive license to import lulavim from Egypt. Ministry officials told Yated Ne'eman that the importer in question applied pressure on the ministry through improper means. Ministry Director-General Yossi Yishai says the Egyptians reduced the quantity of lulavim provided by el-Arish in order to protect the date orchards. Dealers in Israel insist that the Egyptians' decision was the result of pressure applied by one of Israel's lulav importers.

A shipment of 100,000 lulavim circumvented the cartel, arriving from Egypt via Haifa Port. The Israeli dealer who arranged the shipment said he intends to break the monopoly created by the group of importers who illegally took over the lulav market in Egypt to jack up prices. He also managed to bring in 80,000 lulavim cut at Deir-el- Balah in the Gaza Strip based an arrangement between Deputy Welfare Minister MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. In a conversation with Rabbi Ravitz, Mofaz said the defense system is aware of this critical need and "every effort will be made to permit this transfer."

To allow the shipment to reach Israel the Karni Crossing had to be opened for a few hours on Sunday following several days of secret arrangements. Mofaz told Rabbi Ravitz that the transfer would be executed through back-to-back unloading and loading at Karni on Friday, but due to technical and other problems the shipment was delayed until Sunday. Immediately after the transfer, the Ministry of Agriculture insisted on spraying the lulavim to prevent the possibility of unwanted insects. The arrival of the shipment brought an immediate reduction in lulav prices.

Rabbi Gafni said that in addition to its obligation to share all of the information at its disposal regarding the criminal elements behind the lulav cartel with Israel Police and the Antitrust Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture—with the help of the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office—must also act immediately to create additional sources for lulav imports by contacting the Egyptian and Jordanian authorities.


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