‘The Government of Israel, through the Government Companies Authority, hereby announces that it is considering selling, by way of private sale, 100% of the shares of Israel Postal Company.”
So read the advertisement taken out in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post, announcing the official sale of the entirety of Israel’s postal company and calling for bids. While the news may be surreal or bittersweet to some, it brings with it remarkable hope – the hope that the mail system in Israel may not suck forever.
Wait, for real?
On September 21, then-communications minister Yoaz Hendel and then-finance minister Avigdor Liberman announced that, as part of the yearslong process of reforming the Israeli postal service, the national postal company should become a private entity via the sale of its shares to private operators.
The decision to promote the privatization of 100% of the State of Israel’s holdings in the Israel Postal Company was first made in December of 2021, following a series of discussions between the Finance Ministry and the Government Companies Authority.
The reasoning behind the move was summed up by Michal Rosenbaum, director of the Government Companies Authority: “The privatization of the mail is great news – for the economy, the Treasury, and much more for the general public, who will receive a more efficient, faster and higher-quality service.”
Indeed, privatizing the mail presents an almost universally beneficial outcome: the government stands to save hundreds of millions of shekels in regulation costs; the economy will have a new industry of eager companies hoping to make money; and the promotion of competition will likely result in a much higher quality of life for everyday folk as the mail companies work to outdo each other.
Israelis are likely to see, among those quality-of-life changes, some 21st-century improvements to the old mail system they’ve known and disliked. Digitization, customer service and delivered packages actually making their way to your home instead of the pet store three blocks down the road are but a few of the changes that hopeful citizens can expect.
The mail has had us going postal
This shift toward privatized mail has been a long time coming, mainly because of the simple fact that using the mail in Israel is seldom a pleasant experience. While it has gotten at least one Jerusalem Post reporter better acquainted with the owner of the pet store three blocks down the road, in a majority of cases the cons have massively outweighed the pros of interfacing with Israel’s post.
Zichron Ya’acov resident Channie summed up many of the problems with the current postal system. “When I go to the post office, I am always prepared for it to take ridiculously longer than it ever should. I book my appointment online, knowing it is pretty much meaningless and that I will wait my turn exactly as if I had no appointment. Apart from that, it’s always a fun guessing game to wonder if my package has arrived, and if I’m somehow meant to intuit that it has and show up [to the post office], or if I will actually receive a notification when it arrives rather than a month afterward.”
She concluded by noting that, given the current unsatisfactory alternative, the sale of the mail to private companies could be just what the doctor ordered. “Privatizing the system might give it a chance to actually work like a modern organization,” she said. “But, honestly, who knows?”
A real mixed (mail)bag
One of the problems that has bogged down Israel’s postal service efficiency – at least from a frustrated mailer’s perspective – is the mutifaceted nature of its post offices.
Going to the post office to mail or pick up a package could be a fairly simple and pleasant experience, but because the facilities also act as car license distributors, credit card payment kiosks, international money transfer facilities, SIM card vendors, and even a trendy place to pick up a replacement smart remote for your Yes cable box, post office clerks’ counters are frequently clogged up with people who have no intention to send or receive mail.
The inefficiency caused by post offices’ position as a catchall for both governmental and corporate transactions has resulted in a situation where even smaller cities like Pardess Hanna require mailers to make a scheduled appointment for their quick visits to get something sent – sometimes days in advance.
But according to Mindi Leshem, a recently retired postal service worker with 35 years of experience under her belt, there is a wider strategy hiding behind the frustratingly long service lines.
“Those are very innovative ideas – to use the nationwide spread of what was once just 700 post offices as a platform for selling other products [and] for giving other services,” she said. “The mail service has gone down so much that we needed to find other products in order to justify the existence of mail and the post office, the postal bank and all the other services, which are more geared for the lower socioeconomic population.”
Perhaps, but could there be any justification behind making people visit shops throughout their neighborhoods in order to pick up all of their packages? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have them get everything from the same location? Perhaps from some sort of office-like facility for postal services; a “post office,” so to speak?
Leshem, though, insists that this was again the right move to make, given the circumstances.
“That was actually a brilliant idea. What happened was people were ordering more and more packages, and the post offices themselves couldn’t handle the amount of people and give the proper service. So they opened up ‘delivery points,’ which are usually in mini-markets or toy stores – different stores that would like to attract customers.”
She continued: “It’s a win-win situation: it’s better for the people themselves to pick up their packages at a time that’s convenient to them without needing to make a post office reservation, and even though it took away from the profitability of the post offices, it allowed them to give better service to the population.”
It’s certainly hard to fault the logic that dictates “this person wants mail, therefore they will also buy a small dish for the cat that they do not have,” but then again it’s also hard to live in a house where some of the books ordered online carry the faint smell of dog food.
THERE IS definitely a potential risk in privatizing the mail – if you’re going to start letting private companies be in charge of the nation’s postal needs, then there need to be some rules that ensure that everyone will be getting their mail.
It will also be necessary to bake in some form of protection against mail market monopolization, lest the fledgling industry fall victim to the same trappings that have ensnared Israel’s banking, Internet, and countless other industries.
That regulatory responsibility now falls on the government, in exchange for its surrender of the problematic postal service. Hopefully, the government will recognize that responsibility, because unless the proper guidelines are put in place, there would be no guarantee that the correct mail will get to each and every citizen in the country (or at least their neighborhood catnip supplier).
If you feel you’re up to the task, check out that ad in the ‘Post’ and send in your application. It’s up to you whether you send it through the mail.