Facebook Revolution in Israel Takes the Form of Cottage Cheese

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When Tahrir Square was going full steam, I spent an afternoon asking Israelis their thoughts on the matter in a sleek shopping mall in Ra’anana, north of Tel Aviv.  The first question was whether, watching the events in Cairo, they felt inspired?  I should have said “sympathetic,” because several people thought they were being asked if they felt compelled to follow the Egyptians’ example.

Now they have, at least the Facebook part — and with no less dramatic success.  On Wednesday, after a mass boycott fomented on the social networking site, Israel’s dairies reduced the price of cottage cheese by 25 percent.  The price cut dominated the front pages of the Hebrew press just as outrage over the price hikes had for the previous two weeks, with occasional interludes for coverage of old standbys such as the Palestinian conflict and those endless preparations for the flotilla sequel.

The issue got its pop by bringing together two of Israel’s most potent enthusiasms: pasteurized curds and Internet social networking. Cottage cheese is both an iconic food and a staple of the Israeli home, associated with national self-sufficiency as a product of the early kibbutzim. Its often on the plate both at breakfast and dinner. Yet in the two years since the government lifted price controls, the price of a 250-gram (8.8 ounce) container had nearly doubled to 8 shekels,  almost half again what consumers pay in the United States and Europe.  Just about everything seems to cost more in Israel, but there comes a point. As one Facebook page put it, “There is no reason to screw us out of all proportion.”

By the time the the country’s three main suppliers got the message, that page had more than 100,000 members. There were others, too.  Israelis spend more time on social networking sites than any other nationality, logging 10.7 hours per month in April, according to comScore.  (Russia followed closely with 10.3 hours, followed by Argentina with 8.4.) That’s twice the U.S. average, and yet one more indicator of where Israelis heads are at just now.  And what it takes to get them cheesed.