Israel's dairy producers are furious. The popular protests over the price of cottage cheese came as a complete surprise to them -- as they did to us. Since when have Israelis engaged in consumer battles? Tnuva and Strauss executives are stupefied. For years our relationship with them has been one of milkers and milked, and one fine morning, a few fed up cows got up and said, "Enough! There are two sides to the milking shed."
There’s something sweet in the statement “the dairy producers are furious.” After all, what do milk and anger have to do with each other? Milk has a motherly, placating air about it. What could be more innocent, more white, more pure and peaceful than milk?
But the dairy producers are banging their fists on the table. How dare anyone interfere in their business affairs? How dare anyone look inside their kitchen?
What will become of us if we start thinking prices are negotiable? Strauss' CEO made a great statement. “We will not let anyone smear, manipulate or employ demagoguery against the industry," he said. If you pay close attention to that statement you'll understand that anyone who disagrees with the profit strategy of an Israeli industry, anyone who dares to bargain or calculate profit and loss, is in fact the enemy of industry – and therefore also the enemy of Zionism, progress, humanity and so on.
Personally, I am starting to enjoy this whole uproar. Although I am not a hard-core consumer of cottage cheese, I am somewhat fond of it, and at first I did not understand how much justice there could be in a noisy public battle over a dairy product. Sometimes, it even seems a little ridiculous. But then you hear the producers’ responses, and at once dairy executives' profound disconnect becomes apparent–a disconnect that is the fruit of a long-standing relationship wherein manufacturers, advertisers and marketers regard the consumer as an udder: A mindless organ that has to be squeezed in just the right way for a small natural miracle to occur, and clink! – out comes a coin.
Since the time has come to change the distorted rules of the game, it wouldn't really matter if the campaign were named after cottage cheese, or pastrami or pickled cucumbers in salt.
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For years, dairy producers have been flooding us with loud colorful advertising campaigns. In public-service announcements and on billboards, they consistently claim that the relationship between us is much more than the business equivalent of a one-night stand: give money, get a product and that’s it. None of us was surprised to discover, on returning to the airport from a vacation abroad, Tnuva’s ads facing the glass wall of Ben-Gurion Airport. The idea behind those ads is pretty
pretentious: that the Land of Israel is not much more than a metaphor for Tnuva.
As time went on, we got used to the fact that every container of cheese was Home and Country. Every slice of yellow cheese was a sandwich made by our own mother. The chocolate milk produced by that kibbutz down south was actually a divine voice calling “Go forth,” and last Shavuot, we were almost convinced that the nation of Israel was celebrating the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, a historical event in which God bestowed a cheese platter upon His people, so one of its customs is to study a bit of Torah. Milk and dairy products are a piece of the Hebrew collective memory and at this very moment, in my refrigerator door, is a carton of milk with a personal, emotional letter on one panel. The producer addresses me with a closeness that is almost intimate, telling me in a choked whisper that our relationship is forever.
Suddenly, we realize that this country has been picking our pockets on a regular basis. That the false facade that spoke of home is no more than a deceptive gingerbread house straight out of “Hansel and Gretel.”
Moreover, it suddenly becomes obvious that the producer is not responsible for the tone of the campaign that he himself has been leading for years. True, we spoke of shared memory and the fabric of humanity, but we never intended you to take it seriously! All we wanted was to push that button, just like any seller does when he spots a weak point.
It would have been lovely if the court had required the dairy producers to take responsibility for their marketing messages, but that sounds completely unrealistic just now. The defense will claim that one of the foundations of a democratic society is the right to lie.
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With no connection to the foregoing – well, maybe with some – last week a modest event took place at Bialik House in Tel Aviv. Friends and cultural figures attended the launch of Yossi Alfi’s new book of poetry.
One after another, his friends arose, read a poem or made remarks, and it was all terribly cultural until Yossi Sarid’s turn came. Deciding to rock the boat, Sarid used his turn at the microphone to protest “those who persecute poetry, those who hate poetry, the enemies of poetry” – in other words, everyone who refused to go along with the unfortunate parallel that Natan Zach drew between Binyamin Netanyahu and Adolf Hitler. Those few managed to get in a few claps and a few boos. It looked like somebody was hungry for a provocation, and nowhere on earth is it easier to make a mountain out of a molehill than it is around here.
There is no need to say that Sarid’s protest was utter nonsense. Zach’s statements were not poetry, and nobody called for the burning of his books. The comparison, which was made in prose, was the target, and it would have been just as stupid if it had been written as a sonnet. But in Sarid’s twisted world, any criticism of Zach was tantamount to an attack on art, just like fanatics from Shas regard any criticism of a foolish statement by the rabbi as an attack on the Torah. And as far as the Strauss company is concerned, any struggle over the price of cottage cheese is tantamount to a attack on the industry.