Israeli leaders responded with skepticism and outright protest last month to the news that a Chinese company wants to buy one of the nation’s most beloved and important brands.

China’s state-owned Bright Food is in negotiations with Tnuva, Israel’s largest food company.

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British fund Apex Partners has been holding talks to sell a controlling stake in Tnuva to the Chinese company. Currently, the company is controlled by Israeli holding company Mivatch Shamir, as well as organizations representing the kibbutzim and moshavim that founded Tnuva.

Tnuva is most known for its dairy products, which represent 70 percent of the country’s dairy market and highlight the company’s close ties to the agricultural communities.

Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy expressed concern over letting Israeli technology into Chinese hands. MK Micky Rosenthal was more explicit, saying entrusting the nation’s food supply to a foreign power would be a security mistake.

“Future wars won’t be fought with tanks, but with food and the economy,” he said. “Say there is a global crisis and the Chinese aren’t on our side. Tell me what we’ll eat then? Only an irresponsible government would allow this.”

The Moshav movement appealed to ideological concerns.

“Selling Tnuva to a foreign government would mean surrendering the value on which the company was founded,” said Meir Tzur, the movement’s secretary-general. “There’s no way that a company widely seen as a symbol of the state, of settlements and Israeli agriculture can be sold to a foreign government.”

As Israel’s leading producer of cottage cheese, Tnuva has an almost emotional symoblism for many Israelis. Cottage cheese is so widely consumed at breakfast in that country, it is considered a staple. Revelations about price inflation of the product helped ignite widespread economic protests in 2011.

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