Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem Blog

Life in Israel

Israeli commercial life and society

In addition to my work as a business coach, one of my interests is blogging about life in Israel. This is a country full of contrasts – over eight million citizens living in an area the size of Wales. You can see snow and the lowest place on the globe in the same day. Although surrounded by geopolitical extremes, Israel has achieved a decade of high economic growth. My work brings me in contact with an array of new companies, exciting technologies and dynamic characters. Sitting back with a relaxing cup of strong tea (with milk), you realise just how much there is to appreciate in the Holyland. Large or small operations, private sector or non profit, my clients provide experiences from which others can learn and benefit.


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If Israel is for the many, why is its government only looking after the few?

Yesterday, I witnessed a wonderful sight in Israel. A leading team of civil servants from Washington toured a public institution in central Jerusalem. They were impressed by the skill-set of the employees, the passion of the core management, and the deep level of coexistence both from the side of the receivers and those who delivered the sophisticated services.

The Americans concurred. They had rarely seen such professionalism and all round devotion in their site visits in dozens of other countries. And for me, this microcosm of a story represents what is true about so many other parts of life in the Holy Land. Below the radar of the international media and despite all the shouting in the Mediterranean heat, people really try to get on, whatever their background.

However, more and more, I feel the one key exception to this is the government itself.

Just look at these three incidents:

First, this week all the ministers turned up for a vote, which would allow them to install political friends more readily in key public sector jobs. At the same time, one of the saddest annual ceremonies was taking place, a memorial service for those who fell in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Apparently, the government was not represented at the event, a major break in protocol and an insult to those bereaved families.

Second, for months there has been an effort to promote a parliamentary bill that would restrict how Israeli companies sell financial binary options. It is public knowledge for over a year that many of the companies are fronting a scam. So, the question is why was an already watered down piece of proposed legislation, designed to regulate the industry, opposed in August 2017 by Netanyahu’s Likud, the main component in the coalition government?

As an online newspaper reported: “… family prominently involved in SpotOption are leaders of the Georgian faction of the Likud Central Committee”. (To dummy that down – that means votes and money). A few weeks later, to what I assume was the embarrassment of Jerusalem, the FBI arrested an Israeli CEO, who leads an options company. And this week, Canada banned the industry, as Israel continues to drag its feet (and thus people lose their savings).

Third, there has been the most disgraceful handling of state support for hundreds of thousands of people with physical impediments. It has been known for ages that these people receive less money than the minimum wage, and that is despite the fact that many require expensive medicines and equipment. Proposals to change the system were effectively parried by the Prime Minister. For months, there have been spontaneous demonstrations by the handicapped, blocking key road junctions. The police were powerless and the government’s efforts were reflected in its inertia.

Last week, after the head of the Trade Unions’ movement intervened, an agreement was reached following 24 hours of talks. What had it all taken so long? Why did these people need to be treated so humiliatingly by those who sit in power?

It would be easy for me at this stage to consider how these three instances reflect a method of governance by the few for their own select few. It would be even easier to compare that thought with what I had seen during the visit of the American officials. Here, we saw professionals actively looking embrace a culture of inclusiveness.

However, there is worse. And it needs to be said.

The police are currently involved with at least five files that concern directly or indirectly the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu:

  • His wife is about to be charged with abusing the public purse –  inflating private expenses and then receiving reimbursement from the Treasury.
  • His own lawyer (and relative) and other associates are linked with an investigation where they may have received kickbacks for securing the purchase from Germany of a submarine, which the military may not even have required.
  • His former Chief of Staff, Ari Harrow, is being charged with bribery and fraud.
  • He is being investigated for receiving gifts in exchange for political favours.
  • He is being investigated for manipulating the press.

Jews around the globe are about to commence the festival of Succot, the Tabernacles. A core theme is that families and friends come together in booths (Succot), leaving aside for a week the mundane matters of the world.

For too long, the Israeli government – and especially its core leaders – has left aside vast swathes of society. Their raison d’étre appears to be: let us govern in a manner so that we and our friends can stay in power. And thus it is the few well-connected members of society who benefit, as the others have to make do with the crumbs thrown at them.

I do not know who is or is not guilty of what in those five investigations. I do understand the common theme between the first three issues. And thus it is easy for me to find the moral link between the two sets of stories. Sadly, I find this totally repugnant.

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