An El Al flight that departed from New York to Tel Aviv last week was delayed by over an hour because a handful of male Haredi passengers refused to sit next to women. The flight attendants spent many minutes trying to solve the problem. Their eventual solution was to move the women to other seats.
It could have ended as another routine incident, in which a commercial business surrenders once again to the caprice of Haredi consumers. However, this incident triggered a surprising reaction at the beginning of this week – the CEO of high-tech company Nice Ltd., Barak Eilam, announced that he and his company would boycott El Al. “At NICE we don’t do business with companies that discriminate against race, gender or religion,” he stated on social media. “NICE will not fly @EL AL Israel Airlines until they change their practice and actions discriminating women.”
El Al is used to complaints by raging passengers, and it also knows how to compensate and silence the noisier ones among them. But Eilam is not a regular customer. Rather, he is a major client. He and the company he heads take many El Al flights, and not only economy class but the much more lucrative business class.
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Eilam’s protest forced El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin to better clarify company policy, announcing that he “ordered that the procedures on this matter should be tightened, and in future any passenger who refuses to sit beside another passenger will immediately be removed from the flight.”
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Eilam’s involvement in this incident is not characteristic of the business sector in general and not the high-tech field in particular. Many of the industry heads boast of contributing to society and being socially responsible, but they do not so by confronting other corporations, out of fear that they in turn will face such boycotts.
However, a high-tech company like Nice is free of such fears, as it operates in the international market and does not depend on Israeli clients or domestic regulation. Thus, this company can take a socially responsible step and boycott El Al.
El Al and other companies needed to hear this sort of message. They needed someone to make it clear to the airline’s employees and managers that they have customers who are no less important, who also deserve respect. Nice’s boycott is an important signal to the business community, and mainly to high-tech companies, to exit from their bubble and to act to promote important social values – even when doing so entails struggle and confrontation, and not to suffice with social projects. Fixing computers and painting classrooms does indeed constitute a contribution to the community, but true social responsibility lies in repairing social ills.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel