Why It's Bad News That LGBT Rights Are Roiling Corporate Israel

Gay rights is one thing, that's mainstream in Israel nowadays, but how about lofty-minded companies calling a strike over the Nation-State Law?

David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg
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Mideast Jewish LGBT Delegation to Israel: Defending causes isn't what companies are there for.
On the Mideast Jewish LGBT delegation to Israel: Defending causes, however laudable, isn't what companies are there for. Credit: Eyal Warshavsky
David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg

It took a while, but finally American corporate political correctness has arrived in Israel. We should regret it.

I don’t doubt that a lot of people cheered on the high-tech company Nice when it announced last month it would no longer use "any airline" (read El Al) that discriminates against certain classes of passengers.

The idea that women are being moved from their seat to accommodate the demands of the most extreme ultra-Orthodox Jews is repugnant to most people, and shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Nice, a multinational software company with 5,900 employees that does a lot of business with El Al, managed in one move to send it a more powerful message than any women’s group could possibly have done just on the basis of moral authority.

That was a rare instance of an Israeli company taking a stance on any political or social issue. But now it looks like Nice's gesture was not a one-off event.

On Thursday Mellanox, another tech company, said it was adopting a policy of paying a one-time grant of 60,000 shekels ($16,400) and a month’s leave to any employee, regardless of sexual orientation or family status, for surrogate births.

This was not a simple change in company human resources policy. It was a direct response to the Knesset’s approval of a new law that expands surrogacy services to single women but not to same-sex couples. Like Nice, Mellanox was taking a stand that is probably popular, but it's political.

>> Israel's ultra-Orthodox establishment is consolidating its power | Analysis

Moreover, a lot of other companies, among them the Israeli branches of IBM and Google, advertising agencies, and SodaStream announced they would be honoring a one-day strike on Sunday called by gay activists to protest the new surrogacy law.

Sunday also happens to be the fast day of Tisha B’av, so a lot of religious Jews will also be taking off from work, even though they are the ones who are most likely to be hostile to gay interests, so the strike is a pre-ordained success.

What do your shoes say about you?

In America, it's nothing new for companies to enter the political fray, willfully or not, on issues such as immigration, gay and women’s rights, and climate change.

Big corporations do have a business interest in these issues; immigrants are an important source of labor, for instance. But in America, it’s has gone beyond that. Companies and their employees (and certainly their CEOs) are supposed to have an opinion and their opinion is supposed to be the one that the chattering classes and the dominant voice on social media deem to be the right one.

How did this happen? There was a time when big corporations did their utmost to steer clear of politics, correctly reasoning that it was a lose-lose proposition. Whatever position you took would offend one customer or another, so say nothing at all.

The fact that businesses are now being forced to take a stand is partly their own fault.

For many products, even seemingly mundane ones like smartphones or credit cards, corporate marketing strategy has for many years not been about tout their supposed advantages over rivals, but to market them as a lifestyle statement. Your choice of phone or credit card says something about you.

Then you have the twin rise of identity politics, which anatomizes society into an unending of war of oppressed-us-versus them, and of the social media, which broadcasts ordinary people’s disgust in a flash to hundreds of millions.

Corporations are legal persons, meaning they have the right to enter into contracts, sue and be sued, hire employees and own assets and the obligation to pay taxes. But corporations they are not people. They are legal fictions designed to produce products and services. In the process, they employ lots of flesh-and-blood people, who do have opinions and shouldn’t be subject to political tests.

Those who say otherwise, for instance that Google shouldn’t employ someone who thinks women aren’t as good at engineering as men. They would be horrified at the thought that of company banning employees, for instance, for not being sufficiently loyal Americans. That’s McCarthyism, which we know is bad.

In other words, no one really believes big businesses should be engaged deeply in politics. They believe businesses should take stands that they believe in, and woe to any company that adopts the opposite point of view. Time for a boycott petition.

Worst of all is that corporate political correctness is about who has real political power.

Despite the surrogacy law, gays are very much a part of mainstream Israeli society and gay rights are widely accepted, which goes a long way to explaining why there was such a firestorm of corporate protest in response.

But, note that the Knesset also passed the Nation-State Law Wednesday night. As much as it was watered down to a bunch of symbolic statements about Israel being a Jewish state, it was nevertheless a signal to Israel Arabs from the political right about whose country this really is and how little regard it has for true equality. But from Israel’s corporate establishment, there hasn’t been a peep.

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