Milky (מילקי) is a chocolate pudding produced by the Strauss Corporation in Israel. It is a very tasty dessert, and no wonder it has a commanding market share in that category. However recently it became the center of the ‘Milky Protest’, otherwise referred to as “Olim le Berlin” (i.e. ascending to Berlin). The ‘Milky Protest’ sparked heated debates within social media networks, and received much attention in traditional media – newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.  

Milky_Protest

Cost comparison between Berlin and Israel

In a nutshell, the protest is about the high cost of living in Israel. But the main controversy is around the fact it essentially urges young Israelis to immigrate to other countries, where it is supposedly easier to make ends meet.

The phrase ‘Olim to Berlin’ is particularly controversial. The word ‘Olim’ is reserved in Hebrew to people who immigrate to Israel, or “make Aliyah”. In Jewish tradition, the land of Israel is considered “spiritually higher” than other countries, and therefore Jews who immigrate to Israel effectively “ascend”. Similarly, Jews who leave Israel “descend spiritually”, and the Hebrew word associated with them is “Yordim”. For some people, immigrating away from Israel is considered almost an act of desertion.

Berlin has special connotation in Jewish history. It has been the former capital of the Nazi regime, which brought upon the Jewish people the Holocaust.  Suffice to say, the combination of ‘Olim’ with ‘Berlin’ is a major poke in the eye. No wonder it managed to stir so much controversy across the board. Numerous ordinary folks, public figures, members of parliament and ministers jumped into the fray. On one side were those who claimed that people have the right to choose where they live. On the other side where those who claimed that Israelis have a historical obligation to the Zionist vision of building the Jewish state, and that seeking “easy living” in other countries is nothing short of desertion.

So which side am I on? This question reminds me of a joke: a married couple has been fighting a lot and therefore decided to plead their case to their local Rabbi. The husband made his plea first. When he finished, the Rabbi said: “you have a very good point!” The husband felt content with that response. Next spoke the wife and when she finished the Rabbi said: “you have a very good point!” She too felt content with his response. As soon as they both left, the Rabbi’s wife barged into the room and accused her husband of being double-faced. The Rabbi turned to her and said: “You too have a very good point!”

Yes, the cost of living in Israel is high. Yes, people have a right to choose where they live. And yes, Israelis do have a commitment to building the Jewish state. So how does one reconcile these seemingly inconsistent positions? Well, it’s all about making the right trade-offs.

Cost of living is important of course, but there are other factors to consider:  familiarity with your surroundings, language barriers, social ties with family and friends, cultural experiences, attachment and sense of purpose, children education, personal security, etc.

We are fortunate to live in a free, democratic society – and I hope we keep it this way. Under these circumstances, each individual is free to make their own choice where to live. That is, assuming they fulfilled their basic duties to the state, such as paying taxes or completing their mandatory military service.

I don’t think the state has a right to haunt individuals who choose to move elsewhere. I also don’t think fellow citizens should scold them either. Any motivational expert would tell you that reward (i.e. “carrot”) work much better than punishments (i.e. “stick”). If as a society we want more people to immigrate/return to Israel, and encourage those who were born here to stay, we should work on enhancing the positive aspects of living in Israel. The government can and should play a role here, particularly in the areas of cost of living, education and personal security.

The cost of living, which has been the underpinning of the “Milky protest”, can be reduced through government actions. A lot has been written about that lately: improve regulation in some area, and reduce it in others; enable free-market competition where it lacks; reduce the import taxes; implement anti-trust laws to restrict monopolies, are some of the much needed measures. It’s time the government takes some serious action here.

Education helps build a sense of belonging and emotional attachment to a country. It should answer the question “why are we here?” Using a religious answer alone is insufficient. After all, secular people may not accept at face value the biblical passages stating that “God promised the land of Israel to the Jews”. History of the Jewish people and the Zionist movement can help fill the gaps and enhance the sense of attachment and commitment to this land.

And finally, personal security is important. I am not just talking about resolving the conflict with the Palestinians/Arabs. Yes, a peace agreement will greatly help, but I am afraid it isn’t entirely in the Israeli government hands. What is fully in the government hands is the sense of safety people have when walking down the street, or driving their car. Violence and hooliganism is something the government can and should tackle head on – through better law enforcement and education.

All in all, I believe the “Milky protest” is doing all of us a great service. It reminds us that governments should never take their citizens for granted. To borrow from the words of a great leader:

“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earthAbraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863.

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