The Jerusalem Post reports that the “lulav situation” was made worse by a cartel that managed to become the sole importer of lulavim. An unnamed Bnei Brak-based importer is credited with breaking the cartel and bringing prices back to normal.
The story, however, is very confusing — it reads as if it were written by a conspiracy theorist rather than a news reporter. For starters, it seems to place all the blame for the lulav shortage upon this mysterious cartel, and doesn’t even mention the new Egyptian regulation barring the export of palm fronds — even though the latter is already well-known as the cause (we’re not getting as many lulavim in the US, either, and no Israeli cartel is to blame), and the Post itself discussed the Egyptian export ban just last week. It seems more likely that the “meticulously-planned cartel” had the only stock of lulavim officially approved for export; whether they were trying to recoup their extraordinary costs or were indeed gouging everyone (or some combination of the two) isn’t clear, though it’s quite obvious which theory is favored by the Post.
The JPost story refers to “aggressive methods” employed by the cartel “to corner the local market.” As one example of this, it refers to Egyptian officials apparently collaborating with the cartel by holding up the Bnei Brak shipment, insisting “on checking every single carton. ‘This was surprising because the Egyptians never do that,’ said an [Israeli] Agriculture Ministry official.”
Yet the article doesn’t explain why or how the Egyptians’ delay is tied to the cartel. If the Egyptians had already sent their original shipment to the cartel, and were already paid (and, as mentioned, are planning at this point to block all future exports of lulavim), what was their incentive to help the cartel block the shipment to Bnei Brak? And if they did want to block the export, why would they do so by making bureaucratic hassles rather than simply referring to their new export ban, and throwing out the shipment entirely? Two paragraphs later, “the cartel” is on the phone with the Agriculture Ministry, “claiming that the Egyptian documentation was not sufficient.” This tells us that the Egyptians provided documentation that the cartel didn’t want them to provide — in other words, now the implication is that the two were not working together, after all. Were they, or weren’t they? The Post implies both and clarifies neither.
Then, we’re told “the head of the cartel was detained by the General Security Service.” It could be coincidence, but on what basis would he be detained? What crime did he commit? We’re only told that he complained the documentation on the new shipment was inadequate. And then someone with the Agriculture Ministry says that he wasn’t arrested, he just vanished:
“The guy was at the border crossing doing everything in his power to stop the shipment,” said an Agriculture Ministry source. “But then he disappeared.”
Again there’s no explanation — the JPost just says he was detained by the GSS, and never tells us why, or even hints to a justification for his detention (which is not to say that the GSS only detains people when they have a good reason to do so, but that’s a story for a different day). The story just doesn’t add up.
Obviously, if there was a cartel we’re all glad it was broken, and the Bnei Brak importer is a hero in any case (here in the US, we paid about $15 more this year for a set, because of the lulav issue). But as Jonathan Rosenblum wrote, the full story may never be known — and this JPost item clouds as much as it clarifies.