HomeFeatured BlogsCost of Living Angst Returns to Israel

Cost of Living Angst Returns to Israel

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid last year referred to Israeli expats in Berlin as willing to throw Israel “in the garbage” for a cheaper cost of living.
Bloomberg News

Back in 2011, rising dairy prices sparked a cottage cheese protest in Israel. Now there’s a pudding protest.

The first campaign, which called for a consumer boycott of dairy goods, eventually helped bring hundreds of thousands of middle class Israelis onto the streets to protest the high cost of living. Three years later, the debate has been reopened by a Facebook post featuring images of a Berlin grocery receipt and a pudding cup that calls on Israelis to emigrate instead of protest.

“To stay in Israel is to deny you and your children food, education and housing,” argued the post on the Hebrew language Facebook group “Olim le’Berlin’’ – immigrating to Berlin. The post challenged Israelis to comparison shop a 12-item food basket including orange juice and organic eggs. A subsequent post offers instructions for obtaining a German students visa.

By appropriating for Berlin the Hebrew immigration concept of “ascent” to Israel, the title of the group aimed to provoke emotions among Israelis who commonly refer to leaving the Holy Land as “descent.”

It succeeded.

“A Facebook page encouraging Israelis to emigrate to Berlin strikes me as the lowest-level criticism in the world,’’ wrote Doron Cohen, a former finance ministry director general in the financial daily Globes newspaper. The paper concluded in a separate news article that the same basket of goods in Israel could run from 50 percent to nearly double the price.

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who rode middle class discontent to success in the 2013 election, last year referred to Israeli expats in Berlin as willing to throw Israel “in the garbage” for cheaper cost of living.

In an interview with Israeli Army Radio on Tuesday, he said “it isn’t that I don’t understand. It’s exhausting to perpetually be calculating how much every item costs. But I say something else to them as well. I say: let’s, at the very least, hold a discussion in which we stand in front of one another. The question of whether a young Israeli fellow, a young Israeli Jew, goes to Berlin is not a question that is only about the cost of living.”

The Facebook group is being run by a man who says he’s a 25-year old Israeli expatriate living in Berlin, who won’t reveal his name for fear of being ostracized at home for promoting the social taboo of emigration. The facebook page has 7,124 likes.

The expat insisted that while he still prefers Israel to Germany, only an outflow of young Israelis – not a new wave of street demonstrations –will force Israel’s government to take more far-reaching steps to bring down living costs. “Israel today is a nation state for rich Jews,’’ he said an interview.

The 2011 protests prompted a series of government reforms and hurt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the ballot box in 2013. The sentiment expressed in the protest was echoed by Manuel Trajtenberg, an economist who drafted a government reform program in response to the protests. In a newspaper interview published Tuesday, Mr. Trajtenberg said his plan was never fully implemented and that the cost of living remains high.

“Our biggest failure is the cost of living,’’ he said in an interview with the business section of the Haaretz newspaper. “The most painful thing to me is that some of those who participated in the protest feel that the horizon doesn’t look promising, and maybe Berlin looks more attractive.”

The angst over brain drain of Israeli youths to Berlin is not new. Last year an Israeli news show profiled several who moved to Berlin. A protest video uploaded to YouTube last month showed Israelis dancing in adopted homes from Berlin to Los Angeles to the refrain “Reichstag of peace, of Euro, of light’’ – a satire on the popular Hebrew anthem, “Jerusalem of Gold.”

Coming at a time when Israel’s economy is slowing, the pudding post is resonating with the media because the parliament is starting to debate the 2015 budget and public expectations for economic change is rising, said Tal Schneider, an Israeli political analyst and blogger. “It could consolidate into something larger,’’ she said.

This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.

(via WSJ Blogs)

No comments

leave a comment