If one ever wanted to see what the bizarro-world doppleganger of the Jewish Agency would be, one need only show up to Rabin Square this Tuesday.
There, a group called "Olim L'Berlin" plans on holding an event session to encourage Israelis to move to Europe, or really anywhere with a lower cost of living than Israel. They will distribute flyers, information on getting visas, tips on handling bureaucracy, and other forms of encouragement to help Israelis frustrated by their expenses put a foot out the door. Over 1,800 people have said they would attend on the group's event page.
The latest outpouring of anger over the high cost of living has picked up where the giant street protests of 2011 left off. Those protests, in which thousands of people set up tents on Rothschild Boulevard to object against the high cost of housing, followed boycotts of increasingly dear cottage cheese, an Israeli staple. This time around, the expensive produce in question is Milky, a chocolate pudding snack with whipped cream on top.
A post on the Olim L'Berlin Facebook group showing that a similar product in Germany cost .19 Euro--less than one shekel--went viral last week, reaching over a million people on the social network. In Israel, the product often cost around three shekels, and sometimes as high as five.
The group's name, which uses the Israel-specific term Aliya instead of a general term for immigration, has not only struck a nerve with those upset with the high cost of living in Israel, but also with nationalists.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said the group's founders were "traitors,," though he promised to put more food products under price controls.
Labor MK Erel Margalit said that Milky was a symbol of a greater feeling of hopelessness pervasive among young people, unable to afford homes or put their salaries toward increasing their standard of living.
"Let's put it in the table: we're not talking about dairy products or razors or cola. No Israeli who was born and grew up in Israel leaves for a discounted snack," he wrote in Maariv.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud), too, agreed there was a problem, but criticized the group for waging the battle from abroad.
"Whoever wants to fight with this should not fight it from Berlin, he should fight this here," he said in an Army Radio interview.
The Facebook group's 25-year-old founder, who told The Jerusalem Post
by e-mail that he refuses to be interviewed by Israeli media outlets, laid blame with the politicians.
"My generation suffers from politicians who for 20 years have made life in Israel more difficult," he told German newspaper Der Spiegel
"Right now, I can't see a future for myself in Israel. My parents have worked their entire lives, and they still can't afford an apartment. Grandmothers don't turn up the heating during the winter because electricity has become so expensive." Some 25,000 Israelis are currently estimated to be living in Berlin.
It is not clear whether the hubbub will spark the same sort of protests as those that arose in 2011, though it certainly brought the issue back to media outlets' agendas and into day-to-day conversation. Whereas the cottage cheese protest led to boycotts of the product, Globes reported that sales of Milky jumped 15% when supermarket chains such as Supersal, Mega and Rami Levy lowered the price to about one shekel.
A spokesman for Strauss said that it has been selling Milky to retailers for NIS 1.9 for the last four years, and that those companies decide the price consumers pay. That price, he added, was not much above cost.
"In Germany, the raw milk is 7% cheaper, and the Value-Added Tax is only 8%," he said. In Israel, VAT is 18%.
Other salient economic differences that affect consumer prices separate Israel and countries like Germany. Germany's population, for example, is ten times as large as Israel's. That means there is more room for companies operating on large scales, and taking advantage of the associated efficiencies, can operate there. They also have more room for competition because products can easily be transported by train to and from its neighbors.
Israel, on the other hand, is geographically isolated by the sea on one side and unfriendly neighbors on the others. Shipping perishable products such as milk and meat, in particular, in refrigerated containers by sea or air is more expensive.
But many Israeli policies, such as taxes and import duties contribute to the problem.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett pushed forward a law to help ease food prices this year that aims to tackle the problem at the retail level to ensure that supermarkets compete with each other locally. If a growing town only has a Tiv Ta'am market, for example, it would be barred from opening another until a different chain came in to compete. It would also limit how much shelf-space a particular supplier can take up in one market, limited product placement deals, and mandated that chains post their prices so consumers could easily compare them.
The law, however, does not go into effect until January 15, 2015.