Israel Post: A nightmare even Kafka couldn’t dream up

This seemingly endless stream of red tape is forcing business owners to either shut down their operations or move them abroad must eventually run out.

 Post office boxes for the Israel Post are seen in this illustrative image. (photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)
Post office boxes for the Israel Post are seen in this illustrative image.
(photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)

Do you own a small business? Are you based in Israel? Do you ship your goods abroad? If your answer to all three questions was “Yes,” you have my deepest sympathies. 

And if you answered “No,” then I have a great story for you. However, I will warn you that the ending is not a happy one.

Several months ago, I was approached by a friend who told me that Israel Post was causing a huge amount of grief and financial loss to many of her fellow small business owners. I was able to speak to two of them.

Tracey Lipman sells handmade bags online, primarily on Etsy. Her business relies on shipping her goods abroad.

According to Lipman, around January 2023, either Israel Post or the government changed the export system for small businesses, such that these had to give Israel Post power of attorney to do the export paperwork for them.

 DEALING WITH postal clerks is an aliyah rite of passage. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)
DEALING WITH postal clerks is an aliyah rite of passage. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)

“As a registered business, we have to apply for our customers to not pay VAT. It’s hard to explain,” she said.

Originally, all this paperwork was done once a month. A business owner would bring in a month’s worth of invoices, and Israel Post would generate the export paperwork from there. From what Lipman described, it was a slightly clunky system even then, but it worked. 

“When the system changed, we had to give Israel Post power of attorney to do what they were doing before,” she stated.

This power of attorney transfer was heavy on forms and bureaucracy and, according to Lipman, not well explained. The specifics are very confusing. 

Lipman explained that once this change was implemented, business owners were no longer allowed to go to the post office in person to send a package. They had to use this export system and were allowed to use only Israel Post to send their goods abroad.

She also explained that Israel Post said that while they were turning over the system, they were closing it to exports entirely “while they got all the websites up and running.” So business clients were not able to send out packages between January 5-15.

Lipman considered that “a long time for a business.” 

“Especially if you’re on Etsy, eBay, or Amazon, where you’re held accountable. You have to say what your processing time is. Mine is set to three to five business days, but I [couldn’t send anything out] because the country was basically closed.”

Another balagan (mess) ensued. Now the situation was that there was one system to generate the shipping label and another system to book the courier. Individuals were not allowed to drop off packages at the post office themselves, they had to be picked up by a courier. 

Of course, the couriers would often arrive hours late. Lipman said that as someone who works from home, late couriers were not the worst thing in the world. Still, sitting at home waiting all day was less than ideal. Moreover, many people run their businesses out of offices rather than their homes and shouldn’t have to sit in an office until late in the evening, waiting for a courier who may never arrive.

I contacted the Israel Post spokesperson on the issue of late or nonexistent couriers, and the matter was taken seriously at least. “We do not know of a general problem in that area... but I would appreciate receiving specific examples so I can investigate.” It was somewhat disheartening that the dozens of complaints from small business owners have gone entirely unnoticed by upper management at Israel Post.

When business owners were once again able to send packages after the systems came back “online,” these nevertheless ended up sitting in customs for weeks. Business owners were not told why.

“I’ve had packages picked up [from me] nearly three weeks ago, and they haven’t been updated at the export depot,” Lipman said.

Israel Post has done more to destroy Israel than BDS

“We talk about BDS and how BDS wants to destroy Israel. But Israel Post has done worse,” she joked. “They’ve cut us off from the rest of the world. BDS says, ‘Don’t buy from Israel.’ Israel Post says, ‘Well, you’re not allowed to send out anything anyway.’”

I reached out to the Israel Post spokespeople about this. Their response about the customs nightmare did acknowledge that a change occurred in January that caused new procedures to come into effect. However, “This is not [related to] the procedures of the post office but is the policy of the Tax Authority.”

It gets worse.

“Now we can’t print a label. The labeling system is down,” Lipman lamented.

Then Israel Post got hacked in early April 2023, which brought any small amount of business being successfully conducted to a screeching halt.

Janice Kaye, a small business owner who mainly sells souvenirs online to the Christian market, went through all these trials and tribulations as well. She ended up having to request that her goods be returned after they had sat in the export bay for a month. 

Kaye phoned, emailed, and WhatsApped every possible customer service line in search of an answer to her issue. 

“No one was responding. No one cares. It took me three weeks to find out why my packages weren’t going through. And even after I fixed the problem, they still weren’t going through.”

Kaye has since switched to using fulfillment centers abroad so that she can continue her business.

However, the woes do not end with small businesses.

“I live in a city of 35,000 people,” said Kaye, a resident of Yokneam. “And they want to shut down the post office and replace it with a truck that comes around twice a week. Our post office is crowded most of the time from morning to night. I don’t understand what they’re thinking.”

Heard enough yet?

Jonathan Weil is a businessman who lives in Herzliya Pituah who generally receives 15 to 20 letters a week. 

“I live in a complex of 47 apartments, 15 buildings. We haven’t seen a postman for three weeks,” he told me. “Our [usual] postman has gone to live in Thailand – a man of 56, and I’m sure he’s going to have olam haba in this world.”

The manager of Weil’s apartment complex told him that a company called Messer has taken over the responsibility of delivering mail to certain areas. 

“What they don’t seem to have done,” said Weil, “is employ any postmen.”

Weil ceased carrying out all of his business accounts, paperwork, and bookkeeping via Israel Post and has now found himself with nothing. 

“What am I going to do – resort to looking online? Okay, this is the world; we have to adjust.”

But there is no information online that can help him. The best Weil could do was transfer some of his utility payments to his email address. He said that the quantity of mail received at his factory in Hadera does not seem to have changed, yet the mail that comes to the apartment he has in Jerusalem has lessened.

This seemingly endless stream of red tape is forcing business owners to either shut down their operations or move them abroad must eventually run out.

I do my best to be a good citizen. I told all three of the people I interviewed that I would see what I could find out from the Communications Ministry itself. The buck must stop somewhere, right?

You might be able to see where this is heading. And before I put the final nail in the coffin, I will say that I don’t think that either the Communications Ministry or Israel Post is solely to blame for any of this. Jointly, however, they have managed to create a monumental ongoing disaster for hundreds if not thousands of people.

Without further ado, here is the response from the Communications Ministry about the issues that Lipman and Kaye are facing:

“The packages are returned to sender if they’re not picked up by a certain point. Customs tends to examine and delay the packages if they’re unaccounted for and may have some legal issues.

“Moreover, the basic postal service isn’t obligated to pick up the packages from private residences, unless they have a premium postal service. If that indeed is the case and people still suffer from recurring issues, they should appeal to the postal administration at:

“Also, the postal administration isn’t aware of any glitch in the system or crash of the digital services which requires a reboot, and [is causing] delay in services.”

In response to Weil’s situation, the ministry said: “First, the [residents of the] building should approach the postal administration and inform them that the building is off the grid for some reason. The administration is meticulous in its intention to fill all the gaps and sometimes – when needed – conducts visits to areas where the postal service has problems reaching. Once the building complex passes on the information, the administration should resolve the issue.”

Regarding Messer: “Part of the privatization process of the postal services was to outsource and diversify the services to create competition, thus enhancing its efficiency.

“Until recently, the postal services had the ultimate authority to shut down postal units. Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi stepped in and intends to lay a very strict framework vis-a-vis closing postal locations. The minister intends to amend the license so no more units close down indiscriminately without his permission.”

I wish I knew how to fix this. In fact, I wish that someone, anyone, knew how to fix this. At this point, we are coming up on seven months since this whole situation began, and we are faced with the same question we had at the outset: Where in the world is my package? 