Israel: Facebook protest targets price of cheese

In a region rife with Facebook-fueled uprisings, Israelis have launched a modest revolt of their own — against the price of cottage cheese.

By Friday, more than 75,000 people had joined a Facebook group vowing to boycott cottage cheese, a staple of the Israeli diet, until prices dropped.

The consumer boycott has touched a nerve among Israelis concerned about rising prices and eroding salaries, and has dominated headlines for much of the past week.

The price of cottage cheese has rocketed up 39 percent since 2008, according to the financial daily The Marker. A 250-gram container is now sold in many supermarkets for close to 8 shekels ($2.30).

Consumers blame price-fixing by the three large companies that control the market.

Spooked by the outrage, some supermarkets have already put cottage cheese on sale, and the country's politicians have also taken note. This week, an opposition lawmaker demonstratively presented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a container of cottage cheese during a debate in parliament, quipping that it had become a "luxury item." A newspaper headline dubbed it "white gold."

The country's finance minister quickly said he will consider importing dairy goods to increase competition. Lawmaker Moshe Gafni, head of parliament's powerful Finance Committee, told Israel Radio on Friday that his committee would try to restore a government price cap on the cost of cottage cheese, which he called a "basic good." The Israeli government sets the price of milk, bread and other basic groceries.

The Facebook page of the cottage cheese boycott identifies organizers as regular Israelis who "work for a living, are raising families and bowing under of the weight of the cost of living in Israel."

"Cottage cheese is not the essence of the struggle, it's just the symbol of a greater protest," Yitzhak Alrov, one of the organizers, told reporters on Thursday.

There has also recently been outrage in Israel over the price of gas.