Our New Zionist Hero

Instead of whining and complaining about it, immigrant businessman Michael Golan has turned one of Israel's most overpriced industries upside down.

We Western immigrants to Israel are famous for whining and complaining about how things work here – or more accurately, how things often don't work. Rarely a day goes by for us, in our early years in the country, when we aren't complaining in some way about how expensive, inconvenient, and un-customer-friendly Israel can be.

But who are we, the newcomers, to actually come in and change anything? We aren't street smart, we don't know how things work, we've only partially mastered the language. Most of us use every excuse in the book to explain why we havent been able to change what bothers us. We just keep complaining (and criticizing others who complain).

Businessman Michael Golan has neither wasted his time writing whiny blog posts on websites nor writing posts criticizing the whining. Instead, this week, less than three years after he immigrated from France to Israel, he has turned one of the most annoying, frustrating and overpriced industries in the country – cellular phone service – upside down.

He started it all on Monday, when he stood up at a press conference and announced that he was offering a package to customers that gave them unlimited talk time and text messaging for a flat fee of NIS 99 per month (less than 25 bucks) or, for only a few dollars a month, a much more limited package of calls, text messages, and Internet access.

He challenged Israelis to stop being suckers. This was a brilliant marketing move. There is no greater humiliation in this country than to be considered a sucker, who is easily taken advantage of.

Since that press conference, the entire communications industry has been in utter turmoil. Golan's company and those who are matching his prices are being deluged by new customers, crashing their websites. The established cellular companies are in siege mode, with customers demanding that their current companies justify their current high prices.

All you have to do is look at Israeli newspapers or watch the local news to see the massive impact of what hes done. With all due respect to Nakba Day, Palestinian hunger strikes, violent crime in Tel Aviv and even the Iranian threat - all Israelis have really been talking about for the past 48 hours are cell phone prices. The media headlines are all about the tumble in prices and utter chaos that is reigning in the cellular companies.

No one knows how this will shake out in the long term – if the rock-bottom flat fees are an opening gambit, if the real prices will be higher, if Golans company will be able to compete and survive, whether, as his competitors threaten, the quality of service will be low.  

But the bottom line right now: after more than a year of continuous news stories on the skyrocketing cost of everything from gas to cottage cheese, and all the social protests that accompany it, finally, there is a story of an industry in which prices are tumbling, not rising. It is happening in an industry which is arguably closest to the Israeli heart and with a major impact on every household. Even when the prices were insanely high, the country has been helplessly addicted to their cellphones.

And was all started by a French newcomer who stood up at that press conference and dropped his bombshell in his broken but confident Hebrew. He didnt complain about cell phone prices - he changed them. All of us - immigrants and native-born Israelis alike - can take a lesson from the leader of this French revolution.

Michael Golan presenting his cellular company on May 13, 2012.
Tomer Appelbaum