An Israeli Consumer-Guru in the Making?

Law Students Set up Internet Consumer Site


Is Moty Basin going to be the electronics-consumer-guru of Israel?

Finishing up at the Law Faculty and mid-way through his computer studies at the University of Haifa, Basin (pronounced Bahsin) is leading a consumer-awareness campaign via the Internet directed for the most part against Israeli Internet advertisers.

“My aim is to educate and explain, but we will bring suits if there is no choice, the 27-year-old consumer activist said, pointedly adding, “I want to raise public awareness about consumerism. It doesn’t exist in Israel.”

He has yet to fight the Israeli equivalent in importance of a General Motors as Ralph Nader did at the outset of his consumer advocacy in the U.S., but Basin, who said he had never heard of Nader until just recently, gave an example of one of his initial campaigns. According to Israeli law, it is illegal to advertise prices that do not include the value added tax (VAT) or even to write that the price does not include VAT. Most merchants, he pointed out, do not know they are transgressing the law when they do not list the full price of a commodity—without VAT and other taxes or charges. Even fewer consumers know the law.

He has appealed so far to some twenty companies to correct the situation. For the most part, he has received a “thank you” when referring management to the relevant statute. It seems that companies advertising on the Internet want potential customers to feel assured when ordering electronically.

Grateful merchants have offered to help finance the non-profit organization and its new Web-site that Basin and other Haifa University Law students have set up. The site, <www.e-tzedek.com>, which is still being developed, is both an information center on consumerism, particularly Internet/electronic consumerism, and an address for airing complaints and grievances to be redressed. Tzedek is the Hebrew word for justice.

Actually the nucleus of the present organization began to crystallize some three years ago, when some Haifa University law students decided to do something for the public interest. Their initial targets were public libraries that were illegally charging lending fees. His personal interest in consumerism and public interest resulted from a personal handicap. He could easily, he said, go into computers and make a lot of money, but he prefers to do something for Israeli society if he can.

Basin has turned down offers of financial assistance from private companies, because he does not want the organization’s activities to be compromised in any manner.

The only offers he has contemplated accepting are those of technical help with the Web site that have come from young staffers in Israel’s hi-tech industry. The budding consumer guru expressed surprise that word of his group’s activities had spread so fast.

Basin did turn to the country’s two existing consumer organizations for aid. The consumer body that belongs to Israel’s labor federation, the Histadrut, is in worse shape than his own fledgling enterprise, he said. The Ministry of Commerce, which told him it wants to wait to see how the new consumer group turns out before committing itself, sponsors the other consumer organization.

Among his immediate battles, Basin wants to put a stop to consumers receiving used products as occasionally happens when they buy through the Internet. He also wants to publish a chart on food colorings.

The e-tzedek Web site is now only in Hebrew, and Basin is working on an Arabic version to benefit the country’s sizable minority.

Eventually he hopes the University of Haifa will offer academic credit for volunteer work with e-tzedek as it does for participation in the Law Faculty’s legal-aid clinics. First, though, the organization needs to be formally adopted by the University. Should that happen, the Kiriat Bialik-native would like to become its adviser once he has his LL.B. in hand.