Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem Blog

Life in Israel

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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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Shining a spectrum on the real Israel – the cosmic Stephen Hawking

One of the most interesting descriptions of Professor Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott a conference hosted by the President of Israel came from a Palestinian academic, who saw it as a message “of cosmic proportions”.

If you played a game of word association with the name of Hawking, I bet the answers of “Cambridge” and “brilliant scientist” would come up more often than not. And it is in that context, I want to analyse just what Hawking’s actions have shown about Israel, and just what this country stands for.

Starting off with Cambridge, the university is not just known for its beautiful academic surroundings. It is the home to the Footlights, one of the world’s consistently brilliant centres of satirical theatre. And satire forces you to think beyond what you see on stage.

For example, the Presidential event in Israel is to be attended by the Munib al-Masri – leading member of the Palestinian Authority, a billionaire member of the PLC, and who was reportedly wooed several times to serve as PA prime minister. And the Hawking’s announcement was received just days after the Palestinian minister of health paid an official visit to the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, at the head of a delegation of Palestinian officials.

And here is the strange point. While Hawking is not prepared to return to Israel, even when senior Palestinians are in tow, he is happy to get on a plane to China and to Iran!  This is beginning to read like a ‘Monty Python’ blog, many of whom acted in the Footlights.

Moving on, Hawking is known for his thrilling contributions to science, even though he has suffered from motor neurone disease since his university days. Today, his picture, sitting in a wheelchair, is world-famous. And the various technical gadgets attached to the chair are stuffed full of Israeli technology. For example, Intel has three large r&d centres in Israel, which have created the previous, current and next generation of chips powering computers around the world.

In fact, as a response to Hawking’s decision to stay at home, the internet was swamped with a plethora of articles highlighting Israeli achievements in the medical field.  I could not find any comparative articles for the rest of the Middle East. With some irony ,as reported in the Financial Times, one of the world’s leading companies searching for a cure to MNS or ALS is Brainstorm. And guess where the company is located?

Israel does not keep this wealth of IP to itself. CNN featured how Israel has literally saved the lives of Syrian children in recent weeks. Israel Elwyn, a national charity for facilitating the role in society of people with special needs, has increased its efforts to bolster its centres for minorities in Haifa and in East Jerusalem. The French drug company Sanofi is sponsoring the research of a joint Israeli-Palestinian project to study the effect of pharmaceutical residues in water. And so the very long list continues.

When it came to Israel, Hawking tried to do the impossible – judge the country like a scientific experiment and demand perfect results. Well Israel is not perfect, but neither is England nor Norway nor anywhere else. What Hawking conveniently ignored is that no other country has faced a continuous existential threat and also maintained itself as a democracy. Just look at the recent success of the Arab writer, Sayed Kashua, who has a hit TV show in Israel.

Professor Hawking is a genius, who (unfairly?) has yet to receive the Nobel Prize. Winners from the Middle East number five Egyptians and Chairman Arafat. In parallel, Israel, a country of barely eight million inhabitants, has clocked up ten awards. In order to achieve that level of success, you need a truly open society.

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