25,000 Farmers Storm Knesset to Protest Agricultural Policies

Some 25,000 angry farmers from all parts of Israel stormed the Knesset building today in a furious protest against the Likud government’s agricultural policies which they said are driving them to bankruptcy. They pelted Knesset guards and police with tomatoes, eggs, snowballs and stones. Police counter-attacked with high pressure fire hoses. One policeman was injured by a stone and at least one demonstrator was injured and hospitalized.

The demonstration, which became one of the worst riots in Jerusalem in many years, was triggered by the government’s reduction of price support subsidies for agricultural products. The farmers charged that the government was subsidizing frozen beef imports while local poultry farmers were suffer- ing. They carried banners reading, “You Won’t Destroy the Agriculture” and “The Stock Exchange is Thriving but Agriculture is Dying.”

The farmers’ wrath was directed mainly at Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon who they accused of devoting all his time to planting settlements in the occupied territories but doing nothing for the farmers. Sharon is presently abroad, Several Knesset members who tried to mollify the demonstrators were booed and hooted down.

The Knesset Economic Committee called a special session to discuss agricultural problems and invited representatives of the formers to present their complaints. The committee was told by Dov Peled, of the Kibbutz Artzi movement, that even old established kibbutzim, the pride of Israel’s agriculture, are being crushed by deficits and unemployment. Yitzhak Nehemia, of the Negev settlements, said the moshavim there were gradually being destroyed. “All their exports will not even cover the interest on their debts, “he said.

Yehuda Saodi, of the Agricultural Center, said the protestors represented the entire agricultural sector regardless of political affiliations. The thousands of demonstrators in fact included young farmers and grizzled veterans of the pioneer era. One observer noted: “The public who came today to the Knesset represented some 100,000 voters. If this situation continues, not one of them will vote for Likud in the next elections. ” But government sources dismissed the demonstration, claiming that the farmers were the most pampered section of Israeli society.

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