Chronicles of a Water Crisis: Litzman Sheds Crocodile Tears and MK Tirosh Advocates Civil Disobedience

Keren Neubach is angry. Not only did the government pass a drought “tax,” on water usage over a certain quantity, the water authority raised the price of water by 50% beginning in January. Yesterday Neubach invited three people to speak on her morning program on Reshet Bet about water policy.

Neubach and MK Ronit Tirosh of Kadima claimed the tax was pushed through illegally, bundled with the bill on the state budget. The money doesn’t go toward infrastructure or anything connected to the water crisis, like desalination plants. It was blackmail.

MK Yaakov Litzman of Agudath Yisrael complained about the effect of high water rates on poorer families. Even MKs whose grandchildren visited them over the Sukkot holiday were shocked by their bills. Neubach pointed out that families in lower-income areas are more likely to have poor infrastructure that causes leaks, and of course they suffer most if water rates go up.

So MK Tirosh advocated civil disobedience, advising citizens not to cooperate with the water authority’s request for the number of people in each household. She and Neubach also suggested canceling your standing bank order, delaying payment, deducting extra fees, and “flooding” the water authority with pointless questions. The idea is that the water authority would never dare cut off anyone’s water supply.

Well, fifty percent is a lot (although that may be closed to the “real” price of water). I have no doubt that the tax is flawed and perhaps illegal. I’m not sure about civil disobedience, though. Take it to court or get the law repealed. My son suggested we follow Tirosh’s logic and stop paying our electric bill, to protest the exaggerated salaries and pensions of the government monopoly’s workers.

Most annoying of all was the exchange between Litzman and a man whose name I didn’t catch. He had written an email (to Neubach?) about the effect of the tax on his household. He said that he decided to build a private house, “in a place no one wanted to live” (i.e. he was doing everyone a favor using all that land, although I somehow doubt the area’s property value has decreased). He added a large garden, most of which he allowed to dry up. Because they are only two people their water allocation at the normal rates can’t support the garden.

At this point Litzman interrupted him. “Tell the story! I read your mail and it was so touching.” Apparently, four years ago the man’s son was killed in battle, and the father erected a memorial corner in his garden. Now he is worried that the price of water will get so high that he won’t be able to continue watering the olive tree in memory of his son.

There are so many things wrong with this.

  1. You don’t build public policy around one olive tree, no matter how meaningful. Let MKs Tirosh or Litzman propose a law allocating water to preserve special projects.
  2. Let’s remember the soldiers who died protecting the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in 1967 and 1973. Maybe saving it from ecological destruction will honor them as much as the olive tree honors that man’s son.
  3. Let’s remember the current and future soldiers who protect our land and water. I don’t want my sons to have to participate in some future “water war” because Israel let individuals’ interests get in the way of conserving our limited national supply.
  4. Litzman is charedi and presumably didn’t send his kids to the army. I bristle at a show of compassion for families of fallen soldiers from people who encourage their kids to opt out while others risk their lives to protect them. I bristle even more when they show compassion to someone who happens to be on the same side in a political argument.

There needs to be healthy debate about water policy in Israel. But Neubach didn’t invite anyone to present a view in supporting of current policy.

No policy will please everyone, and some people will be hurt more than others. That’s how it is whenever you have a tax, fine or rate increase. Neubach’s only positive suggestion was to give discounts to people who save water instead of fining people for wasting it.

I’m no expert on water policy. But I know enough to be disturbed by people who talk as if having as much water as you want at a cheap price is a God-given right. Israel has a finite amount of fresh water, and it’s time we started working together to find solutions.

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  1. I don’t think that cheap water is necessarily a God given right (after all, it is ??? ??? ??? ???? and not flowing with water)but I feel like the government is going with the quick and easy solution and it’s on my gav. Let’s just make the citizens pay and not look for long term solutions. I think that’s what upsets many of us, not just the money itself.

  2. mominisrael says

    I hear you. But the guests on the show didn’t make a good case. They were just kvetching.

  3. Listen, being one of those (newly poor having just lost my job) charedim, there’s a point where such policies are counter productive. The previous rate raise was very effective in cutting use – while at the same time the cities are continuing to water their gardens.

    The government could subsidize water flow restriction devices for sinks and showers. They could subsidize the replacement of older toilets with dual-flush toilets. They could subsidize leak repairs.

    They could hit the farmers with restrictions on high water crops (I noticed COTTON being harvested on Route 1 recent, COTTON!!! a very high water crop).

    They could build grey water processing, allowing it to be piped back for use such as toilet flushes into new construction.

    But instead they’re going to treat water like a sin tax. But like cigarette taxes in the US, sin taxes work only until people qualify it as a necessity. Since everyone already uses high efficiency washing machines and most use the dual flush toilets, what’s left? To shower less?

    So I’ll have a choice come January – a chicken once a week for Shabbos, or flushing the toilet. Literally telling my children not to shower all week (with associated decrease in sanitation and increase in disease), or be able to have lunch.

    Way to go government. Great way to handle the crisis. Don’t stop watering traffic circles or municipal gardens, instead charge me extra.

    Governments do fall over this kind of stupid decision.

  4. Oh btw, my charedi _daughter_ will be showering on base – as the IDF has no restrictions on water use, nor is dealing with leaks, nor using flow restrictors or dual flush toilets. I don’t begrudge them the water as they guard the country, but they can take some wise actions also.

  5. There absolutely has to be a balance. People have to understand that water is precious, but it’s also crucial to keep a normal amount of water for daily use in economic reach for everyone.

    A few tips for keeping regular bathing in reach – I’m still bathing my almost 2.5 year old in the baby tub. takes about 1/4 as much water as a real tub. Unless the water’s gross, I bathe her and the baby in the same water (separately). Even if I have to dump the water and start over (sometimes, it looks positively murky), I’m still using a lot less than I would if I were using the full tub.

    You can soap up/use shampoo without the water running. Teach your kids to be efficient. Rinse for 30 seconds. Soap up. Rinse for 1 minute. If you need to condition, use it, and then rinse again. You can still shower every day if you shower efficiently.

    The ultimate solution is going to have to be more desalination, but desalination isn’t cheap. I assume the cotton is already using brackish water so don’t be too quick to judge.

  6. mominisrael says

    Akiva, first of all, I wish you the best at finding a new job. If you want me to post about it here let me know.
    Keren Neubach should have invited you to speak instead of the man with the olive tree.
    I apologize for generalizing about haredim. However, Litzman represents a constituency that educates its children that it is anathema to serve to serve and much of his political clout goes to perpetuating the situation.
    Obviously there are many exceptions in the haredi world, and there are many on the left and in the national religious camp who advocate not serving.
    Best wishes to your daughter. One of my son’s showers will soon be on the army’s budget too.

  7. mominisrael says

    Thanks TC for your input. You can also reuse bath water for the first stage of the washing machine.

  8. btw – an olive tree shouldn’t need watering – and certainly not more than 3-4 liters a week. BAD example.