rainbow colored white-and-blue
Today it is difficult to distinguish between
a locally made
product and one made abroad
by Orna Coussin
Ha'aretz, 11 April 2002
Goldstar or Tuborg? The advertising campaign "Israel buys
blue and white," currently being aired on radio and television,
is urging Israelis to buy locally made products. The average customer
would understand from them that it is better to purchase Goldstar,
an Israeli beer, than the Danish Tuborg. In that way, unemployment
in Israel can be minimized.
However, it just so happens that both beer brands - including the
one identified with Denmark - are made in Israel. Tal Rabban, the
director of marketing for Beer Breweries Israel, notes that the
Ashkelon plant, where Carlsberg, Tuborg and Prigat products are
made, employs some 200 Israelis.
Sometimes it seems that there really is nothing new under the sun.
"Let us stick to Israeli-made products, it's what a smart country
does," called Golda Meir in April 25 years ago. At the time,
she headed the Public Council to Encourage the Purchase of Israeli
Products. Even then, as today, they talked about the fact that Israeli
youth hanker for imported goods, a tendency that ostensibly harms
This subject comes up for discussion at least once in ten years.
In February, 1984, for example, it was Gideon Patt, then minister
of industry, who called upon consumers to opt for local products.
He also demanded that government agencies - the army, hospitals,
government companies - all buy "blue and white."
That is exactly what current Minister of Industry and Trade Dalia
Itzik is demanding too. "Hospital towels, and even national
flags and a large proportion of army uniforms are currently ordered
from the Far East," says Itzik. "If the gap in prices
is something we can live with, government companies should grant
priority to Israeli products." But, she notes, "If production
in Israel is too expensive, there is no choice and government companies
will continue to prefer cheaper foreign products and I cannot force
them to buy more expensive items." Past experience proves that
future ministers of industry will come out with similar campaigns
in the future as well.
Blue and void
However, in a certain sense, some things have fundamentally changed.
In an era of brand names, the concept of "blue and white"
is almost void of meaning. Consumers would have to make a special
effort to discover which products are really made in Israel. Additionally,
there is no guarantee that purchasing an Israeli brand name will
benefit Israeli workers in any way.
In the shops of the Israeli clothing brand Golf, for example, one
may find shirts sewn in China, tank tops from India and slacks from
In Polgat stores, an Israeli men's clothing brand, suits made in
Portugal are hanging on the rack. A tour of the nearby shop selling
the Israeli brand of Castro will reveal white blouses from India,
a colorful dress and tank top from China and one pair of white trousers
from Israel. Very few Israeli workers are involved in the manufacturing
process of the most well-known Israeli brands.
And while we are at it, how should we choose undergarments? A number
of Israeli products are manufactured under the brand of Delta, but
a fair proportion of them is sewn in Turkey. Triumph, on the other
hand, an international brassieres brand, has two factories in Israel,
one in Be'er Sheva and the other in Jerusalem, and they employ about
450 workers (mostly women from Arab villages and new immigrants
from the former Soviet Union).
But the Triumph department of the Mashbir Latzarhan does not carry
a single bra made in Israel. One is from Hungary, another from Portugal,
along with bras from Greece, Austria, Vietnam and Thailand.
Yisrael Romess, Triumph's director of marketing in Israel, explains
that in recent years, the two Israeli factories manufacture brassieres
only for the British chain Marks & Spencer. "We bring foreign
currency into the country," he says. "That too is important."
The picture is similarly complex in other areas. For example, in
the food industry, it may be understood from the campaign to buy
locally made products that we should prefer products made by Israeli
companies to those made by competitors abroad. That would mean that
we should leave on the shelf products such as Rombouts filter coffee,
taking Elite mocha filter instead. However, both products are made
in Belgium and consequently, there is no difference whatever as
far as supporting Israeli workers is concerned.
Take another example. Shampoo brands from Europe and the United
States, such as Dove, L'Oreal-Paris, Nivea, Pantene and Finesse,
are manufactured in Israeli plants in Migdal Ha'emek, Kiryat Ata
and Karmiel. However, other products made by the same companies,
including body lotions, liquid soaps and face creams, are manufactured
in a wide variety of countries including France, Italy, Mexico and
the United States. It may be concluded then that the brand - the
name of the company stamped on the packaging - says nothing about
the country of origin.
Meir Barel of the Manufacturers' Association reports that the association
will soon act to mark products with a special blue-white label in
order to help identify those products that are actually made in
Israel. The Israeli flag will be stamped onto products that are
entirely made in Israel as well as on "items that have been
brought to Israel in the form of raw products and undergo processing
or change in Israel that give the product an added value of 40 percent
This refers to products that Israeli employees process and their
wages represent at least 40 percent of their cost. An example of
this would be furniture made from wood imported to Israel, perfumes
made from imported essences and clothing made from imported materials.
Barel notes that there are very few industries today in which one
may find products that are entirely made in Israel - that is which
were made by Israeli workers from A to Z. Among them are plastic
products, high-tech products and a long list of food products. On
the other hand, says Barel, "in the textile industry, there
are very few products that are purely Israeli.
In area of households, dishes, cutlery, glasses and china - today
almost everything is imported. There are hardly any toys made in
Israel (there are box games, but no toys, such as dolls, teddy bears
and balls), cars have not been made in Israel for ages and very
few electrical appliances, with the exception of refrigerators,
are made in Israel and today even a large proportion of the ceramic
tiles and bathroom fixtures for construction are imported."
Minister Dalia Itzik is furious at the fact that "imports
to the tune of $49 million a year is 50 percent of the local raw
product," and she maintains that this figure must change. She
is convinced that "In recent years something has happened to
Israeli consumers. They have started to blindly prefer imports,"
and she wants unruly customers to "start giving an opportunity
to local products, to see if they are good," just as economic
leaders before her have requested.
Fear of exposure
However, in the times of Golda Meir, Gideon Patt and their predecessors,
there was still a lively debate going on about the issue of exposure
- opening the local market up to competition with foreign products.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the press reported every government decision
to expose yet another area of products to competitive imports. Today,
on the other hand, no one is even trying to doubt the extent that
globalization - free trade, crossing boundaries and nationalities,
the canceling of any local protection of domestic products - is
a positive and desirable phenomenon.
Dalia Itzik says, "There is no contradiction between the encouragement
of globalization and support for domestic products."
Critics of the free trade agreements point to the principle built
in to them. Countries concede their right to protect their workers
and products in order to enable capital to freely move to and from
them. Or in other words, in order to gain investments from abroad,
workers in Israel must be sacrificed. The prevalent phenomena in
Israel of today, those about which the ministry of industry and
trade is complaining - the firing of thousands of workers, the transfer
of the work force to manpower companies and the drop in wages -
are, according to this approach, the direct result of globalization,
which the ministry enthusiastically encourages.
Dalia Itzik claims that "Israeli consumers must help the workers
and support local industry," making it clear that "We
must return to Israelis the values of mutual aid and national pride.
I have no intention of apologizing for that. This is the only country
that apologizes for encouraging the consumption of its own products."
But the minister declares in the same breath, "The policy
of openness to international trade will continue. We have no control
over the international situation." She even notes that she
cannot "protect those sectors suffering over the long term
- neither from the economic or security situations, simply because
we have opened the market to competition."
For example, she says, there is no point in protecting the textile
industry. "If I impose levies on imports, people will pay NIS
50 instead of 10 shekels for a shirt. I can keep ten thousand workers
in jobs but I don't want to do that at the expense of the consumers."
"I must take a systemic approach," she says, without
hesitation adding her Zionist message - "and I think that it
is the right thing to return to the values that dominated us in
the past, those of a shared destiny."