UBER-X in Israel? Netanyahu, transport minister collide

January 25, 2016  

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz had a testy exchange Sunday during the government’s weekly session, on the subject of allowing UBER – a service that offers an alternative to regularly licensed taxi cabs – to operate in Israel.

Netanyahu, who had returned from the economic summit at Davos, turned to Katz and said he had met there with UBER founder Travis Kalanicke, who told him that the firm was having difficulty entering the Israeli market.

“Yisrael,” said Netanyahu, “you have to open the door to competition.”

Katz responded by saying, “I have no problem with UBER, as long as they operate within the law.” He suggested that Netanyahu himself take the matter under his care, and added a jab at Netanyahu: “My job is not to take care of foreign financiers, but to take care of Israel’s citizens. Competition has to be fair and productive. I have promoted reforms that favor the citizens vis-à-vis the strong bodies in the market.”

Netanyahu jabbed back, and said that reforms need to be promoted regardless of political pressure – this hinting at pressure from taxi owners who are members of Likud’s Central Committee.

According to Calcalist, the room then went silent, and Netanyahu added that he has no personal connection to Kalanicke, beyond the meeting in Davos. Calcalist spoke to Yehuda Baror, Chairman of the Taxi Union, who called UBER “a cancer for the nation of Israel.”

Katz said Monday, in a Knesset debate, that the power of the taxi drivers’ union is overrated. “This is not a powerful sector. These are not the car importers, with all due respect. These are working people dealing with a certain reality and it is my job to enable them to do so under equal terms.”

UBER has been operating in Israel since 2014 but the main point of contention is the UBER X service, which allows ordinary citizens to offer rides without being licensed to do so. Katz said that if Israel plans to allow this to happen, it needs “to prepare 8-9 billion shekels to compensate the cab drivers.”

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