In Israel, for over three weeks, there have been demonstrations initiated by young people. They were first directed against the high cost of living, but they seem to be developing into something much larger, a movement for a systematic social change, addressing the growing disparities between rich and poor and the difficulty of living well, concerned about issues of social security and the deterioration in the provision of education and health care. What had begun with a consumer uprising against the high prices of cottage cheese over a month ago, leading to a boycott on dairy products (since in Israel they operate as a cartel, not open for competition), appears to be the beginning of what Rosa Luxemburg describes as ”an exercise in democratic action.” I observe the exercise as an Israeli living in Berlin, basing my commentary on newspapers, blog posts and conversations with friends at home.
The “cottage cheese revolt” is no trivial or accidental thing. Israeli dinner tables usually contain this staple, together with a salad. The most popular cottage cheese, Tnuva, has an illustrated home on its package and a well known advertising trope: “the cheese with the home.” Fighting for home is not only for affordable housing or the cost of living. The protesters also talk about the quick decline in the freedom of speech and of the Israeli democratic system under the current government. However, the demonstrators delay, for the time being, what they see as “political demands” for possible negotiation with the government. They fear this would compromise the call for “social justice,” and more immediately, could scare off some of the right-of-center demonstrators. According to Ha’Aretz today (August 2), “a document setting out the demands of the tent protesters in the areas of housing, welfare, education, health and economic policy is being drawn up by the movement’s leaders.”