Tidbits: Bibi and I had lunch together today

El Al

I hold a lot of business meetings at a certain café on Emek Refaim. This particular café is great because it has wireless Internet, great food, friendly service, and ambience. And to top it all off, they have the Tav Chevrati, which is a kind of social certification indicating that, among other things, their workers get paid minimum wage and on time (in many places the workers have to depend on tips for their salary!), and they meet other criteria like handicap accessibility.

Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu) stopped by to grab a bite. Ok, it wasn’t with me, and we were on either side of the restaurant, but it’s not such a big place so we practically lunched together. The person I was meeting pointed out that this country is so small that celebrities can’t act like celebrities. If they want a good cup of coffee, they show up at the same mid-level cafes like the rest of us. This encounter drove home again how small this country really is; this isn’t the first time I’ve run into one of our politicians, and I’ve even worked with one of the richest people in this country! Six degrees of separation? I think in Israel it’s three or less.

I wanted to tell Bibi that I think it was a great idea that he started his own blog, and that he should check mine out. But by the time I got up he was gone…

The Charedim are boycotting El Al (and the environmentalists are boycotting tobacco companies, etc.)

I read two other Israeli blogs, and within the past few days both wrote about the Charedi boycott against El Al. Michael Eisenberg at Six Kids and a Full Time Job argued that the boycott could cause serious economic damage to the carrier, that we need an Israeli carrier for global flights and good security, and that this approach won’t necessarily bring people closer to Shabbat.

David Bogner at Treppenwitz argues that El Al is now a private entity that needs to survive in a highly competitive environment, which may necessitate flying on Shabbat and/or serving non-kosher food to passengers. He also questions the logic of choosing to fly on other airlines, which aren’t necessarily more stringent with Shabbat and kashrut.

I disagree with both of them. It is every consumer group’s right to exercise their economic clout by boycotting a company if they feel it is violating principles that are important to them. Not only is it obvious to all that Shabbat and kashrut are important issues to the Charedim, but apparently El Al promised them that they would adhere to these principles.

Eisenberg is concerned that the Charedi boycott will bring El Al to its knees, which would affect the livelihood of many and even have nationalistic and security implications. If the Charedim do have enough purchasing power to cause damage to El Al – well, isn’t that what a boycott is all about? This is their right as consumers, to choose to buy or not to buy from certain companies. If their economic clout with El Al is so significant, then El Al will simply have to consider whether it is more worthwhile economically for them to fly seven days a week and potentially gain one more day of business and lose the Charedim, or not. El Al won’t be the first company to have to reconsider its strategy in light of consumer pressure, and they certainly don’t have to self-destruct as a result.

To Treppenwitz: I have to question the extent to which El Al has been privatized. If it now holds the same status as every other airline that flies to and from Israel, why does the Israeli government insist on limiting the flights of other airlines? Is it because of good memories and sentiments? I doubt it. The government seems to have some kind of stake in El Al, and is determined to make sure that they can maintain their semi-monopolistic state of Israel’s air space. If that is the case, then El Al is still Israel’s national airline, is still coddled by the fat man, and may not be able to use privatization as an excuse for changing their religiously-related policies. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t fly on Shabbat – I’m just saying that the argument may not hold water. And if it does, then they are subject to boycotts just like any other private company, and will have to consider the demands of their clients in addition to their own independent economic strategies.

And finally, does it make sense to boycott El Al and then fly on other airlines that don’t keep Shabbat? No, but the Charedim are in negotiations with Israir to devote themselves to that airline in return for a guarantee that they won’t fly on Shabbath. Will people become closer to Shabbat as a result? Probably not, but that’s not necessarily the Charedi goal in this fight.
In the meantime, it looks like El Al is succumbing to the Charedi pressure. El Al’s CEO told reporters this week that “There is no boycott…El Al has no intention to fly on Shabbat.”