'Average citizens' attack austerity on PM's Facebook

Microbrewery owner laments new tax's strain on beer industry; Tali Oz Albo's sarcastic letter goes viral on social network.

Netanyahu's Facebook page 370 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Netanyahu's Facebook page 370
(photo credit: Screenshot)
“Hi Bibi. How are you? I am the average citizen.”
Thus begins a protest letter on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Facebook Timeline that got over 40,000 “likes” in five days and inspired a deluge of copycats.
Tali Oz Albo wrote the letter last Wednesday after hearing Netanyahu’s announcement that “there is no such thing as a free lunch” and about subsequent increase in taxes.
Meanwhile, David Cohen – a US immigrant and owner of the Dancing Camel microbrewery in Tel Aviv – tried to replicate Albo’s success, posting on Netanyahu’s wall on Sunday that the increased taxes on beer are threatening his livelihood.
Both Albo and Cohen are small business owners who, after looking for a way to express their frustration with new austerity measures, took to Facebook.
Neither has received a response from the Prime Minister’s Office but both received overwhelmingly supportive reactions on the social network.
“I was working on Wednesday morning when I heard Netanyahu say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. It made my blood boil; I felt like I had been stabbed in the stomach,” Albo told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “Raising taxes hurts the middle class, people who don’t have any more money to give. The government is taking from people who are already in overdraft, who can’t afford to raise their children.”
Albo, a married mother of two from Nahariya who has participated in recent social protests and voted for Meretz and Labor in the past, owns her own online marketing firm and works from home. She explained that social media is a tool she uses every day; therefore, she took to Facebook to write a very sarcastic letter to the prime minister.
“I just wanted to tell you,” she wrote in the letter, “that since I finished my army service (about 18 years ago) and lovingly did my duty for the country, I have been sitting with my legs crossed every day at one in the afternoon. Why? Because I know that you’ll knock on my door, I’ll open it and you’ll bring me my free meal!” “I didn’t start a business in the State of Israel and pay taxes from here to Honolulu,” Albo continued.
“I and my husband don’t bust our butts to pay rent every month and raise our children.”
Soon after Albo posted her invective it was picked up by the popular Hebrew-language “Tweeting Statuses” group on Facebook and went viral. By Saturday 23,000 people “liked” the letter, a number that almost doubled by Monday.
“Behind every like is a person hurt [by the new taxes and budget cuts],” Albo said.
On Saturday night she opened “The Average Citizens’ Group” on Facebook, which by Monday afternoon had gained over 1,700 members, including MKs Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and Orit Zuarets (Kadima). The group is meant to facilitate discussion of “the next step, so we can live like human beings” following the announced austerity measures.
“If there’s a pie it needs to be split equally,” Albo said. “The prime minister is supposed to be an expert on economics. Suddenly, he panicked and is taking from the average citizen. It is scandalous.
He doesn’t care about people who aren’t surviving.”
The letter by microbrewer Cohen had a more earnest, respectful tone and came from a more supportive place, with Cohen admittedly having voted Likud in the last election out of identification with Netanyahu’s “philosophy of fiscal restraint.”
“I couldn’t find another way to get to [Netanyahu],” he explained. “At first I sent it as a private message, which was probably naive of me. In the US I could call my congressman and someone would at least acknowledge me.”
After Cohen received no response, he posted the letter on Dancing Camel’s Facebook wall and “Tweeting Statuses,” after which it received “likes” from hundreds of Anglos and native Israelis and was reposted in dozens of Facebook groups and blogs.
Cohen recounts the story of his aliya from New Jersey nine years ago and the founding of Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv in 2006.
“I asked for no government subsidy, I received no government handout. I invested my own money – every last penny that I saved from working 20 years as a CPA in New York,” he wrote. “Whether from the language, the business culture or the stifling bureaucracy, I have endured obstacles at every stage... I have done this because I refused to be shaken from the belief that this is my home and that this is where the history of the Jewish people will be written for the next 2,000 years.”
Cohen lamented the fact that beer production was targeted for a tax increase of over 200 percent, saying it was likely to lead to the closure of his business.
“The boutique beer industry in Israel is only just now getting off the ground. With over 25 licensed breweries we have brought tourism, employment and national pride to a global industry that traces its very roots to this region,” Cohen explained. “I am imploring you, I am begging you, for my own well-being, but also for the well-being of the country, don’t cast away people like us.”
According to Cohen, the new tax weighs heavily on smaller breweries, leading to an increase in prices and giving a greater edge to large bottling companies like Tempo and Coca-Cola.
“Israel has the fourth-highest beer prices in the world. Two-thirds of my manufacturing costs are taxes,” he explained.
Cohen also took issue with the way the decision to raise taxes on beer was made, with “no committee, no review, just five minutes of forethought” and without any vote. In addition, he said, if the tax on beer is presented as a “sin tax” it should apply to vodka and tequila, which is “what teenagers on street corners drink, not boutique beer.”
“It is preposterous,” he said.
“Why were these obvious targets missed?”