Israel’s Olympic Committee on Monday reversed its earlier decision that food manufacturer Osem’s iconic Bamba baby will be the nation’s mascot at the summer games in London. Osem was supposed to pay an undisclosed amount to the committee in return for the right to provide the team’s symbol, but public criticism of the move caused both sides to draw back from the deal. Osem announced that it would donate the funds to the committee with no strings attached.
Neither the Olympic Committee nor Osem released how much the company was paying the committee as part of the deal.
Bamba, peanut butter-flavored puffed corn, is one of the country’s most popular snack foods, and a diaper-clad cartoon figure has been used for 20 years to market it.
The announcement drew sharp criticism from Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat and the cottage cheese protest movement, media sources reported.
“It’s bizarre, incorrect and inappropriate,” Livnat told Maariv. “It is inappropriate to market a national symbol with the Bamba baby.”
Haaretz reported that the grassroots cottage cheese movement sent a letter to the head of the Olympic Committee, Efraim Zinger, decrying the decision. The so-called cottage cheese movement began as a protest against the price of that staple but has since became a figurehead for public protest for social justice.
In the letter, the protesters wrote that “the citizens of Israel are ashamed at your choice to sell the symbol and mascot of the Israel Olympic team for a mess of pottage to promote a commercial product. Even worse when we are talking about an expensive product from a monopolizer and price profiteer like Osem.”
Last year the Olympic committee ran a campaign that asked the public to choose a design for Israel’s mascot. A green prickly pear called Shpitzik won the vote; however, the design was quickly scrapped after Educational Television sued, claiming that Shpitzik too closely resembled the channel’s own prickly pear presenter, Kishkashta. The Tel Aviv District Court accepted the claim and ordered the Olympic committee to pay NIS 50,000 to Educational Television.