Good Business, or Succumbing to Pressure?

letter-447577_1280

The tag line reads: “Company succumbs to haredi pressure, decides to launch special cellular phone for ultra-orthodox users.” The news? The leading Israeli mobile communications operator, Partner Communications, decided that it wanted to do business with the charedi population after all, and that meant offering a cell phone that charedim found acceptable — no streaming video, no images, no instant messaging (yes, even text messaging, which “can be abused by spammers, scammers, identity thieves, online predators and cyberbullies”). Following Yediot’s lead, foreign papers are also calling a simple business decision “bowing to pressure.”

Partner was under no pressure at all, other than that of every business owner who wants more business. Certain groups in the US also enjoy asserting that everyone from Coca-Cola to Nabisco is “forced” to pay rabbis to certify their products as kosher — but this, too, is a business decision. Or are Rabbis somehow allied with the government of China, such that they can coerce Chinese businesses as well?

So why is it perfectly acceptable for an Israeli reporter to leverage exactly the same charge that we call anti-Semitism when made by white supremacists in the United States?

One is tempted to say that the difference is that all sorts of Jews keep kosher — but only the charedim have a decision from leading rabbis to prohibit the use of cell phones with live streaming video. Streaming video to cell phones is hardly an innocuous add-on (on request, I unlinked an article from The Guardian here. It had to do with one of the big market forces driving innovation in this area.), but once again, something is deemed sinister about any opposition, no matter how thoughtful or appropriate, to its widespread use.

But what do I know? If you have a less ominous rationale for calling doing business with charedim “succumbing to pressure,” by all means submit a comment…

You may also like...

15 Responses

  1. Jewish Observer says:

    “wonders about the breadth of his knowledge (especially beyond his own neighborhood) in this matter”

    Bob brings up a fair point here. Thing is I am factoring in flatbush, boro park, lakewood amd monsey attitides here. to be fair, BT’s are probably different.

  2. Michoel says:

    I would say that “succumbs” has a much more negative conotation than “bows”. The fact that the Israeli press used that language is also telling. The international press, having, presumably) less anti-charedi bias toned it down to “bows”.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Jewish Observer is assuming a lot about Jewish shopkeepers as a category. One wonders about the breadth of his knowledge (especially beyond his own neighborhood) in this matter.

  4. Jewish Observer says:

    it might be like the pressure Jewish shopkeepers experience when they “have” to serve blacks. they would rather not serve them, but it would be ultimately bad for business (not the loss of the business itself; but the repercussions) if they refused. Could be same here – perhaps they would prefer not to serve charedi needs, but business pressure is forcing them to. (could be a bit of a Poilesher pilpul but not that much less reasonable than some of the stuff you find on blogs)

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    Menachem,

    I made a distinction between external forces and consumers themselves, and called upon you to find a case “where a business decision to serve a niche market was described as ‘bowing to pressure.'” None of your examples meet this standard.

    Most blatant was your soft drink example, as it runs exactly parallel to the FCC in my above distinction between the FCC and consumers:

    Markos Kyprianou, the European Union’s health and consumer affairs commissioner, threatened the industry with EU legislation if it failed to curb advertising to children.

    The only one of your examples that might have impact here is that of the “Made in Italy” label — but here as well, the “pressure” comes from the low-cost competitors, not from consumers.

    Your examples further prove my point that when customers call for a product to be provided in a certain way, that is not called “pressure.” You were pressured, Partner was not. It’s hardly out of bounds to suspect that the choice of what would otherwise be the wrong term has to do with the specific niche market in question.

  6. Menachem Lipkin says:

    I have a few examples below. Not only do I argue that there’s nothing wrong with it, I believe that from the pressuring group’s perspective it’s quite positive. If I were a chareidi person who had joined in the effort to get Partner to provide Kosher phones I would feel a reel sense of accomplishment at seeing that story.

    Your example of Shinui is not really valid. Since the government is overwhelmingly secular a secularist party doesn’t really have to apply pressure to accomplish its goals. It seems that this type of phrase is more commonly used when a minority group is trying to get a large company or government to do something it wants.

    Further you really make my point when say that I was “pressured”. Yes, you’re correct, I was pressured along with thousands of other parents of yeshiva kids in Israel. That pressure in turn gets transferred to the companies. The smart companies like MIRS picked up on the market opportunity immediately. Because Partner dug in its heels it had to “bow to pressure” from its chareidi customers to change its marketing strategy.

    ======

    MSNBC – January 25th

    “Soft drink producers bow to pressure”

    http://msnbc.msn.com/id/11011576/

    KR Tribune – November 14th

    Also last week, 406 scientists called on Congress to force fishery managers to use “the best available science” to stop overfishing and not bow to pressure from the fishing industry.

    Asian Wall Street Journal – September 28th

    The “Made in Italy” label, with its centuries-old history of artisanship, has justified exorbitant prices. If their clothes are stitched at low-cost factories, how will consumers react? Will luxury brands eventually have to bow to pressure and lower prices at the expense of their margins?

    Medindia.com – September 9th

    The Utah Legislature is being called upon to counter such efforts and not succumb to pressure groups which seek to deny people their basic rights.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    Steve,

    If capitalism entitled businesses to “sell us everything,” then none would go bankrupt. That’s not how it works. The goal of a business, in the end run, is to make money, and it does so by providing customers with goods and/or services for which the customers are willing to pay. What the customer wants is not “pressure or regulation.”

    You ask us to “imagine if the party directing the content was the FCC,” but no comparison is possible there. The FCC is an external government entity, whose regulations impede commerce between the business and the consumer. A group of consumers saying “if you build it this way, we will buy it” has never been perceived as pressure on the business. On the contrary, there is a billion-dollar industry called market research, whose sole purpose is to advise businesses how to build and market their products in order for consumers to want to buy them.

    By its own admission, Partner underestimated the market for these cell phones. When it realized how much business it was losing out on, Partner changed its mind.

    Menachem,

    You argue that “there’s nothing wrong or negative about it,” but “bowing” or “succumbing” to pressure obviously is something we would all call negative. I will concede the point if you can find a single other instance, in any other current media source, where a business decision to serve a niche market was described as “bowing to pressure.” This is a description constantly used when the Orthodox political parties are negotiating to serve their constituencies in the Israeli government — that the government is “bowing to charedi pressure.” They are not “bowing to secularist pressure” when Shinui is securing funds for dance troupes.

    You, on the other hand, were “pressured” into getting one of these phones. The Rosh Yeshiva functioned as an external regulator, interfering in your commerce with the cell phone company. Of course, a yeshiva has the right to set policy for its students, so the pressure is not unacceptable, but it is certainly external pressure. The interaction between the charedi community and Partner was not.

  8. HILLEL says:

    Your post references an artical from Yediot Achronot.

    The editors at this paper have a passionate hatred of Charedim and a passionate love for Tommy Lapid and Shulamit Aloni.

    Here is an article from one of the editors at that paper that illustrates their hatred of Charedim (Eli Yishai of the Shas Party) in all its glory.
    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3220052,00.html

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Are we speaking here of one potential market saying only “this is what we need, not the thing you
    want to sell us”. Or is it also “we don’t want you to offer your current product to anybody at all” ? What objection could exist to the first statement by itself?

  10. Edvallace says:

    Ezzie,

    Guess what? No one here really gives a hoot about what Dovbear agrees with.

    I realize you probably meant it in jest, but you may not appreciate how little his opinions mean to many of the readers of this blog.

    Kol Tuv

  11. Saul Mashbaum says:

    The article concludes:

    “For a long period Partner refused to answer the committee’s call to provide kosher phones, arguing that its costumers should benefit from all the services it provides.”

    If there’s anyone who doubts that the end of that sentence really means “its costumers should be forced to pay for all the services it provides, whether they want them or not”, please raise your hand.

  12. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Of course it’s pressure. The pressure came from chareidim. And the company “bowed” to the pressure. It’s perfectly accurate and there’s nothing wrong or negative about it. This is how capitalism works. A cohesive segment of Partner’s customers made it clear to the company that they have to modify the product or lose their business. We see this all the time in the business world. As a product manager in a software company I have to deal with it all the time. Would you be as miffed if a headline read, “Bumble Bee bows to pressure from animal rights groups to certify that their tuna fish is dolphin free.”?

    As a company I think Partner made a bad business decision to initially stick to their guns and not provide kosher phones. That initial decision MAY have been driven by some nefarious anti-chareidi motive, though I highly doubt it and there’s nothing in the article to support that. Partner, probably through lack of foresight, created the situation where they needed to be pressured by some of their customers. It probably turned out to be a simple cost/benefit analysis. How does the cost of modifying the phone compare to the benefit of keeping and/or gaining customers?

    Parenthetically, I also succumbed to chareidi pressure in that I had to get my son one of these kosher phones if I wanted him to be able to have a phone in Yeshiva.

  13. Ezzie says:

    I think even DovBear will agree with this line: Partner was under no pressure at all, other than that of every business owner who wants more business.

    Very good post.

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    Kashrus, on the other hand, is recognized as not a Jewish sign of approval and is widely viewed as a
    sort of Good Housekeeping sign of approval by non-Jews. The notion that products are “forced” to pay
    for hashgachas for their products is an anti Semitic urban myth with no basis in fact.

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    From the point of view of any company selling a product or services, any threats by anyone to its
    ability to sell the product with all of the attendant bells and whistles are really a form of not so
    subtle interference with its capitalist belief that it can and should sell us everything, regardless
    of whether we want the product or it to be pitched to us in some fashion that we deem unsavory.
    Imagine if the party directing the content was the FCC. From the corporate perspective, any type of
    pressure or regulation on what, how, and when and where it can sell its widgets is a headache,
    to be charitable. Therefore, I think that this is just a paternalistic corporate reaction that “we
    think that we know best” to a pressure group that has no need for its products.