Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Great Cottage Cheese Revolt

In Egypt, Facebook was used to pull thousands of people into Cairo’s Tahrir Square and rise against a corrupt regime.  In Syria Facebook is used to drive thousands of demonstrators to rise against dictatorship while braving military brutality. In Israel Facebook is used to protest against the price of Cottage cheese.

 Are there any parallels between the price of Cottage cheese and the value of personal freedom and democracy? Yes there are, and I am not being sarcastic.

Protest grows against food prices
I respect the citizens of Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Iran and Libya for their courage in facing an oppressive regime. I also respect the citizens of Israel who <finally> found the courage to face an “oppressive” pricing and taxation system.

Israelis do not need to fight for democracy - we have it. Sure, we need to improve it and defend it. However at the end of the day “we get what we vote for”, which is what democracy is all about.

The pricing system is a totally different issue. I am not an economist, and certainly cannot proclaim to understand the system after being back for just 5 months. But one cannot ignore the paradox we live in: Israelis earn less than their counter parts in other developed economies (e.g. USA), yet they have to pay more for just about everything.

Housing, cars, gas, food, clothes, restaurants, all seem to be more expensive in Israel than in the US. However according to economic reports the average Israeli worker still makes less than his American counterpart.  So how do Israeli consumers manage to pay for all of that?

Welcome to the “Israeli miracle”: everybody seems to live life to the fullest. Restaurants have long waiting lines, coffee shops are open late and vacation packages to Europe, America and the Far East can hardly match demand.  And the supermarkets are flush with any food product you can imagine, juicy fruits and ripe vegetables.

I am told that the Israeli economy is different. Government involvement, control and regulations are still much higher than in the US - remnants of a socialist regime. A handful of corporations and several oligarchs control big parts of the market leaving room for anti-competitive behavior.

I still don’t get it: shouldn’t earning power somehow match the cost of living? Unless you can borrow cheaply forever (i.e. USA), than supply should eventually meet demand. For years it seemed that these basic economic rules do not apply in Israel. Prices continue to rise, and people continue to pay. “What can you do?” said the person on the street, with a shoulders’ shrug.

Facebook to the rescue! While it may be difficult to convince thousands of Israelis to show up in person at the public squares, it is a lot easier to click ‘like’ and join the Cottage boycott group.

The results were nothing but astounding! Within a short period of time over a 100,000 people joined the Facebook protest. Sales of cottage cheese plummeted at the stores. The large producers and the retail chains caved in and lowered the price of Cottage cheese by about 20%.

This might be a small step for cheese, but it is a giant step for Israeli consumers.  The rise of consumer power should help balance government inefficiencies and greedy monopolies. I am all for a democratic economy, where “we get what we pay for”.


  1. Hi,
    This is just postulating...
    This may be a sign of trying to search for firm inner values which people can trust, rather than relying upon external values which seem to be proven false on a growing scale.
    Of course a society is needed, but its foundations need to go through an updating process.

  2. Well said! Coming from Europe, I think Israeli consumers have many disadvantages compared to European consumers, and I think it is fantastic that they are finally doing something about it!