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How much does it cost us? כמה זה עולה לנו? Or the Great Cottage Cheese Revolt

The Spring Revolution Sweeps Israel - Haaretz Newspaper, 16.6.11

All morning I’ve had the refrain of Shlomo Arzi’s song going round and round in my head: Oleh Oleh Lanu, Kama ze oleh lanu? How much, how much does it cost us? The reason this particular refrain is stuck in my mind is because I’ve been reflecting on the great Cottage Cheese Revolution. Where the fate of the country doesn’t seem to bring out more than a handful of people on to the streets, the price of cottage cheese: now there’s something we can all get behind.

Firstly, I should make clear that I do not intend to belittle the questions of the rising cost of living, set against the ever-widening social gaps in Israel. For a substantial part of Israel’s population, the price of cottage cheese does indeed symbolise something much greater, and I certainly support social mobilization around this bigger issue. The fact that sales have fallen by something like 25% over the last few days, despite the fact that the major supermarkets have introduced special offers on cottage cheese, shows how strongly many people feel. 

What made me think, however, was the fact that the biggest demonstration I attended last year was focused on the issue of student grants, opposing the awarding of preferential funding to Yeshiva students. At the time, whilst delighted at the turn-out at the demonstration, I discussed the fact with a friend that it seemed a little sad that the only thing that brought people out onto the streets was something that affected their pockets. The new phenomenon of the Cottage Cheese Boycott strengthens that understanding.

This morning, however, it occurred to me that rather than be saddened by this phenomenon, we should try to leverage it to our advantage. The occupation costs each and every one of us money. We, the citizens of Israel, are paying for the occupation. I am paying for the occupation. I have often contemplated the idea of trying to begin a civil disobedience campaign based on the idea of refusing to pay the portion of my tax bill that goes to fund the occupation. Whether or not that is a realistic prospect, we could certainly  put the information out there as to how much each and every one of us contributes out of every paycheck. In an article by Dahlia Karpal in January, she suggested an annual price tag of $1175 per citizen of the country. I have no idea whether this figure is right, but there can be no doubt that the maintenance of the occupation costs the country a fortune – whether in direct costs of funding the soldiers and security guards who guard every settlement in the West Bank (whether legal or not) or in the direct costs of the preferential tax breaks that we grant settlers rather than putting money towards the causes that really deserve it – like maintaining the public library in Kiryat Shmoneh.

So maybe that is where the left-wing parties should direct their efforts: let’s come up with a breakdown of the cost of the occupation, and base a campaign on suggesting people choose between options. How do you want to spend your 4000 NIS? Guarding the settlers in Hebron? Paying our teachers, doctors and social workers? A summer holiday, perhaps? Or simply a lot of cottage cheese. The choice is up to each and every one of us.

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