food / travel

Protest In A Pita: Bargain Falafels Help Israeli Middle Class Stave Off Crisis

Falafel sandwich for the middle class
Falafel sandwich for the middle class
Ari Libsker

TEL AVIV — The Israeli middle class is tired of paying a full hour's salary for a few bites of street food — and the market is reacting.

Cofix, a leading coffee to-go chain, broke all the rules and came up with the symbolic price of 5 shekels ($1.40) for either a cup of coffee, a sandwich, or a piece of cake.

The first few days after the opening, the franchise on Ibn Gabirol Street in central Tel Aviv was flooded by customers. But Cofix is only the latest case of a creeping trend in Israel's shifting home economics.

The number of outlets selling street food for rock-bottom prices is growing; and many have picked locations in the heart of areas known for their high food prices.

The trend first appeared at pizzerias and falafel stands in Orthodox areas in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, but has recently spread to the center of the city, and even to the rest of the country.

Bargain hunting

Ratzon Falafels — where a falafel sandwich is sold 6 for shekels ($1.6) — is a good example. They opened their third restaurant last year in one of the most popular streets in Tel Aviv, and now have lines from noon until closing time, at around 7 p.m. In response, many higher-end falafel restaurants are reducing their prices

“When we opened, a falafel sandwich in this neighborhood cost 12 shekels”, says Liron Ratzon who co-founded the restaurant with his brother Moran. “Now it's up to 18 shekels ($5). But we stayed at our fixed price of 6 shekels. What’s the big deal? What’s a falafel? Hummus and spices, and it has to be warm. We have good agreements with our providers and we turn a profit thanks to the quantity.”

Ratzon says his customers come from all walks of life, and whether it's for lunch or dinner, people are looking for a bargain."They don’t have any money anymore, the crisis has hit them hard," he says. "In our restaurant, a couple can eat a meal for 20 shekels ($6). Somewhere else they would have needed to share a meal for that price.”

At one of the tables sits Keren, 40, who works in a nearby law office. “This is a protest in a pita. I am not ashamed to say I am here for the price.”

The cheap street food stands have seen their popularity grow very quickly. Among their new customers is a new group of people, everyday workers who see their salaries stuck even while prices keep rising on everything from gas and electricity to housing and food. Cofix did not invent anything. What’s new is that it’s no longer a source of shame for the middle class to eat on the cheap.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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