Lifestyle & Belief

Israel's Cottage Cheese Revolution


Tnuva Cheese (Photo: Daniella Cheslow)



Facebook-fueled revolutions that brought down powerful regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have spread to other parts of the region. Now, activists in Israel are taking a page from the social media playbook of their Arab neighbors.

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But in the Jewish state, an uprising that began on Facebook is not about freedom or regime change.

It's about cottage cheese.

The first thing to know about Israeli cottage cheese is, it's really good. Trust me on this. I never considered myself a big fan of "cottage," as it's known here until I moved to Jerusalem.

Second, Israelis are crazy about the stuff. Café owner Itzhik Yakov said kids, older people, everybody in Israel loves cottage cheese.

"It's a cheese for the small people in the city, you know," he said. "It's like the people's cheese. Yeah."

And the people are angry. They're angry because the price of cottage cheese has skyrocketed.

Just go to a Jerusalem grocery store called Mr. Zol, or Mr. Cheap. Nine ounces of cottage cheese, which would go for maybe a buck forty in the US, sells here for more than two dollars. And that's not cheap enough for shopper Rahel Drefler.

"I have a good salary. So for me it's not a problem to pay these prices. But I look at the other families that have a lot of children who are suffering and it's unfair that the prices are so high. And that's why I'm participating in this boycott," Drefler said.

The boycott started on Facebook last week. Tens of thousands of people have already joined the group. Zelig Crone said he supports the boycott. He's got seven kids at home, and, unfortunately, they're big fans of Israel's finest.

"Ya, that's the problem. It is the best cottage cheese. That's the problem, that's why were all having a whole fit about it. If we don't have a choice, we'll have to live without it," Crone said.

When asked if he's participating in the boycott, Crone said "of course."

So just who's responsible for pushing up cottage cheese prices?

Economist Ayal Kimhi said it's the three Israeli companies that control Israel's dairy industry. He said it appears that the three companies are exploiting consumers.

The cost of dairy production in Israel is higher than in Europe, for example, which subsidizes its dairy industry. Israel's warm climate also adds to production costs. But Kimhi said such explanations fail to satisfy outraged Israeli consumers.

"When you see a price of a single product that is considered to be a basic product rises so much in a certain time period, then people become aware of that and then go out into the streets," he said.

He even conceded that perhaps the Arab Spring in nearby countries has provided an example for Israelis to follow.

The impressive response to the boycott was the subject of a recent editorial in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. The piece lamented the relative lack of outrage over Israel's diplomatic impasse with its Arab neighbors. The headline put it this way, quote, if only Israelis cared about more than cottage cheese.