Thursday, September 08, 2011
‘Cottage Cheese’ Protests in Israel
The somewhat humorously named protests began in June 2011, stemming from a Facebook page which protested the rising cost of living in Israel. The price of cottage cheese, which is considered an essential every- day item in Israel, has risen by forty five per cent in the past three years. This is most likely as a result of the government having stopped regulating its price, in a misjudged attempt to encourage competition in the market.
Since June, the ‘Cottage Cheese’ protests have continued to escalate. One hundred thousand protesters joined the original Facebook protest page, and participated in a nationwide boycott of the product, which, according to activists, will not end until the price of cottage cheese is lowered by 12.5%.
The government is now having to contemplate allowing the importation of dairy products in order to stimulate international competition and drive down the cost of cottage cheese in Israel, and it is interesting to note the wider rationale of the recent protests. The Cottage Cheese Protests embody the national sentiment that the benefits of the country's economic growth have not extended to the majority of the population. The cost of living and housing in Israel has not risen in accordance with what much of the population can afford; Israel has a poverty rate that is approximately two times higher than the average developed country, for example; house prices in one particularly sought- after region neighbouring Tel Aviv have risen 49% in just six years.
As a result of this, we are once again witnessing the use of social networking sites in the Middle East to facilitate calls for reform. The use of Facebook in Israel in recent months has mobilised people from a variety of socio- economic and religious backgrounds to actively express their dissatisfaction with the government, in addressing the issues that matter to them. Indeed, in conjunction with this, large protest encampments have sprung up along boulevards in major cities across Israel, in response to the perceived nationwide lack of affordable housing. The Hooverville era style encampments stemmed from a Facebook page set up by 25- year old Daphne Leef two months ago, from which she envisaged a small- scale protest. The spread of these protests is in itself testament to the widespread dissatisfaction felt across Israel at the rising costs of living.
Many have attributed the recent protests to the educated but dissatisfied youth; young graduates make up a large proportion of those affected by the lack of affordable housing, and social networking sites such as Facebook provide a platform from which they are able to unite and take action. It seems that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent efforts to reconcile the protestors with a team of ministers for negotiating purposes has been in vain, as September 3rd saw a further 500,000 demonstrators take to the streets of many cities across the nation.
The protests are the biggest in Israeli history and are particularly significant in the sense that they indicate to the international community that Israel is not as unified as might be expected. Palestine have begun their bid for statehood recognition at the UN in a move that is likely to divide international opinion; the Israeli authorities will therefore consider it crucially important to present a united front, now more than ever.