This week saw the news of three significant investments in Israeli technology by multinationals. However, the international community treated the information as worthless. Why?

  • GE Healthcare, Medtronic and Change Healthcare are to receive around US$5.5 million dollars each to expand their R&D efforts in the Holy Land. They all already employ hundreds in Israel.
  • U.S. sales and marketing software company Salesforce has signed an agreement to acquire Datorama, an Israeli cloud-based artificial intelligence marketing platform. in a deal worth around US$800 million.
  • Lockheed Martin and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to evaluate potential markets  for Rafael’s Smart, Precise Impact missile guidance kits.

Each of these commercial deals will have strong positive knock on effects globally, too complex to relate in detail here. Meanwhile, the international media has focused on Israel’s new nationality law.

Now, I have my own reservations about this law. What it actually does or change is still not clear, which is a clear indication why it is probably a bad act of Parliamentary business. It is certainly seen as an election move by the Prime Minister to shore up his proverbial right wing, as elections appear to be looming.

It is easy to see why the foreign press has focused on the issue. Israel has been ‘fair game’ for decades.

And just as easily as the journalists ignored some positive commercial news, they also “forgot” to write about the thousands of Syrian refugees who benefited from Israeli charity this week. Those refugees are ‘fair game’ for the Assad regime. Conversely, they are fair game to be ignored by the governments of the same critical journalists.

Meanwhile, Israel’s opponents appear holy than thou….to themselves.

In the start up nation, you are allowed to assume that the Israeli economy revolves around the high-tech.

Certainly, whenever a news item features commerce and trade from the Holy Land, it does seem to revolve around innovation and entrepreneurship. Just look how CNN featured the Israeli efforts on the rescue of the boys in Thailand.

Going through this weekends’ newspapers, I realised just how diverse the Israeli economy has become and just how much there is for others around the globe to benefit from its resourcefulness.

For example, staying with the tech theme, and as it is the last day of the World Cup in Russia, let’s consider VAR; Video Assistant Referee. Israel has become a key player in the field, pardon the pun. For example, this year, Invertex was bought by Nike. Two years ago, Replay, which specialises in D3 platform, was sold for US$175 million to Intel.

According to one report, there are 177 Israeli start ups associated with sport technology, having raised over US$650 million in a decade. Nine have achieved exits, resulting in close to a further billion dollars. Revenues are up 38% this year.

In a completely different sphere, we are increasingly aware how Palestinians are adept at using Israeli resources. For example, despite calls for boycotts such events, they always make a splash at the Agritech exhibition in Tel Aviv. The Al Baidaa agricultural trading company is run by the well-connected Al-Masri family. It is the key behind the growth in date plantations in the Jordan Valley region, which is expected to see a doubling of production by 2023.

So far, around 10% of the produce goes oversees, primarily to Europe. In the past, security measures have seen shipments delayed. However, all parties are now finding ways together to overcome these handicaps. It is also worth noting that most Palestinian commercial successes are to be found in the West Bank, tucked away from the rule of Hamas in Gaza.

On a structural level, there is one positive potential change in the offering. The Prime Minister’s role in the suspected corruption case known as File 4000 has highlighted how for the past decade Israeli business leaders have tried to secure fame, fortune and safety by dominating an aspect of the media. Two examples include the fallen tycoons Eliezer Fishman and Nochi Dankner, former owners of newspapers.

The links between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, who had the controlling interest in the national phone company, Bezeq, are just an extension of this theme. The two have been friends for years. The Ministry of Communication was run by a confidant of Netanyahu, just as Bezeq’s commercial reach was being secured. All this was going on at a time, when the Prime minister retained the communications portfolio.

Is it any wonder that much of the term of the current government has been spent loosening the controls over its authority by the courts and civil service. Is that period of abuse coming to an end? I would like to think so, for the benefit of 8 million citizens (less the few oligarchs at the top).

 

We all have those hot nights, when we cannot fall asleep. We look for something meaningful to do. We five minutes ago, I just saw two contrasting videos of Facebook that I want to share.

I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of a most effective video from Koolulam. This is a group that brings masses of people together through song, whatever their background. Their name is a play on the word inclusiveness.

This time, Koolulam arranged for members of Jerusalem’s three leading religious communities to perform in the ancient City of David, located just inside the Old City of Jerusalem. The chosen song was originally written by Bob Marley.

Just click on this link, watch and take it in. Note also the special lighting effects bouncing off those very ancient and symbolic walls.

At the heart of the name Jerusalem is the word “shalom” or peace. Next time somebody tells you that the city is not open to all, 24/7. just think about what you have seen.

And then sadly, almost the very next posting I saw revealed the ecological disaster that is evolving in the south of Israel. It may not be terror in the classic sense of the word, but it is designed to frighten, destroy and maim the innocent.

It is time for the world to show that it cares and to tell the perpetrators that they will be punished. Why? Not just because such acts are abhorrent.

They are also futile. And how do I know that? Because only resilient countries – states that are built on core values of mutual love, hope and respect – can produce videos like those of Koolulam.

Israel’s economy has been given a big “thumbs up” just recently. Matthew Michael, head of EMD and Commodities at Shroders Investment, one the UK’s largest investment houses, has paid a visit to the Holy Land. This was not his first trip here, as his team are trying to show a visible presence in the country.

Shroders operates in over 20 countries. And as Michael discussed in an interview with the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, Israel is considered the 4th least risk problematic country in Schroders index of 80. Some mighty compliment. What I found interesting was Michael’s assessment that Israel is well protected against unforeseen shocks to the world banking system.

That is all very encouraging. And the economy is still growing by over 3% a year, as unemployment remains at a record low. So where’s the proverbial “but”? And there is one, if not two or three.

Let us start with what interests Shroders, the banking system. Israel has been blessed with several strong and defining Governors of its central bank over the past two decades. None more so than the incumbent, Karnit Flug. Unfortunately, as her first term of office draws to an end, she has been forced to fall on her sword. Having neither the approval of the Minister of Finance nor the Prime Minister (for different reasons), she has asked that her contract not be renewed.

What is the concern? The role of the Governor of a central bank is to be an independent voice, protecting the money supply of a country. This calls for the political echelons to act with responsibility, and not just appoint a ‘silent mirror image of themselves’. Given the behavior of the aforementioned gentlemen, that is unlikely to happen with Flug’s departure. And in that case, if the new person is to be a “yes man” (or woman), a new large question mark will open up against Israel’s ability to raise money on the international markets.

Next is that ever worrying and constantly ignored issue of wealth distribution. With a huge amount of irony considering the religious nature of the country, Israel has the highest ratio in the OECD of salaries in the ninth decile (the 10% of salary earners below the top 10%) to salaries in the bottom decile (the bottom 10%). 

The country scored 7.22. The average for this ratio in the OECD was 3.22. In second place after Israel was the US, with 5.05, following by Costa Rica, with 5. In other words, the rich are getting richer more quickly, as the rest of us fight for the scraps on offer.

In my view, this is unacceptable as well as unsustainable. Further, it gives a much deeper perspective as to why so many government ministers and their associates are being investigated at this time for misuse of public funds and authority. And I deliberately include in that listing the files against the Prime Minister and also his wife.

If there is a message here, it is very clear. Wonderful stats and even a seemingly solid infrastructure takes years to create. However, they can be destroyed far, far more rapidly. They can only be retained and protected through continuous responsible measures. Flug and the OECD have delivered their warnings.

 

BDS is an international movement, dedicated to creating an economic and cultural boycott of Israel in support of the Palestinians. A recent report of their successes noted that:

A planned soccer match between Argentina and Israel was canceled after the Argentinian team received threats to themselves and their families…….Meanwhile, In May Netta Barzilai’s song “Toy” earned Israel the right to host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. Calls to boycott the upcoming event began immediately, particularly in Iceland, Ireland, Sweden and Britain…..

Elsewhere internationally, local efforts to boycott Israel accelerated dramatically. In Ireland the Galway City Council voted to boycott Israel, while in Spain there is a renewed wave of BDS moves. In a first, the state of Navarre condemned Israel and passed a resolution calling on the Spanish government to support the international BDS movement. This followed similar calls in the cities of Valencia, Oviedo, and Pamplona. Oviedo immediately canceled a performance by an Israeli orchestra and ballet company saying, “Israeli organizations are not wanted.” Overall, some 90 Spanish communities have voted to support BDS.

And while these politicians were waving their speeches in the air, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled their homes and have made their way to the border with Jordan and Israel. The only significant aid for them has been supplied by Israelis, primarily from the area, which these same politicians call the “occupied Golan Heights”.

Israeli Flying Aid secured most of the 300 tents, 13 tons of food, 15 tons of baby formula, three pallets of medical supplies, and 30 tons of clothes and shoes sent ….to Syrian civilians fleeing Bashar Assad’s latest offensive against rebel holdouts in the Daraa region of southwest Syria.

Ironically, these people and their numbers no longer capture international headlines. In contrast, 12 boys and their football coach, miraculously surviving in a underground cave in the middle of Thailand, are far more news worthy. One of the first rescue teams to find them came from the UK.

And how was that accomplished? The trackers were primarily dependent on an emergency mobile communications technology, developed by the Israeli company Maxtech Networks.  As their CEO observed, since Maxtech’s role in the rescue attempt hit the news, the company has been inundated by enquires from all over the world. The website has almost crashed.

And reflecting on the contribution of BDS to these stories? Well if people had listened to the campaign’s advocates, the answer would have been death, hunger and illness. Well, that is what you expect from a campaign, based on hate and hypocrisy.

 

Somewhere amongst a very stressful week, I came across three very insightful postings from the web. Together, they form a powerful message.

Let me start off with sport. Football’s World Cup in Russia is but one of a myriad of great events these days. For example, the Brits are lining up for their annual two week tennis binge at Wimbledon in south west London. It is a wonderful event. If you pardon the phrase, the buzz of the crowds can be heard even during the silence of the points as they are played….,

…except for Lee Duck-hee. This 20 year old South Korean, deaf from birth, is a professional player and has been trying to qualify for the tournament.  I find it astounding that he has found a method to overcome the lack of hearing so key for others in their 100% fight on the court. Can you imagine trying to play the game without listening to the sound of how the ball has been it or if it caught the net? That requires an extra level of determination.

Somewhat staying with sports, I came across a post from motivational speaker David Flood. He described how his physically challenged son took part in an ice hockey game and what he learnt from the moment when his son actually scored. I will not spoil the whole story , but he signs off by demanding that we look inside ourselves.

“Your life is not about you”, Flood reminds us. It is how we interact we all – yes, all – those around us and what we can learn from them.

My final item leads me into the world of high-tech. We are used to hearing stories of people starting out in garages or dropping out of university before they reap their millions. However the founder of Flickr and Slack, Stewart Butterfield, has a very unique background.

(He) spent the first five years of his life living on a commune in remote Canada after his father fled the US to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. The young Mr Butterfield and his parents lived in a log cabin in a forest in British Columbia, and for three years they had no running water or electricity.

Think that unusual? Butterfield originally contemplated a career as a professor of philosophy. And today, his personal fortune is estimated at around US$650 million. Clearly, living in the wilds of Canada do not act as a boundary to becoming one of the world’s wealthiest people.

I am a business coach and mentor. My office is in Jerusalem, Israel, a region where miracles are supposed to be ever present. Somehow, while these characters may have prayed, I do not believe they relied purely on an exterior force. They asked what else they could do of themselves in order to succeed.

So what will you contemplate about your future this weekend?

I always get tense when booking my flights on line. I feel that I am waiting ‘to be had’ by some hidden clause and then duly ripped off.

This past Saturday night, I concurrently checked out the prices of four airlines, flying from Israel to the UK. El Al was the clear winner, and so I duly set about ordering a ticket for myself and my good lady. All was fine, when at the last moment I realised that I had made a mistake. As I could not go back one step, I was thus forced to start the process from the beginning.

I zipped through the pages again, until I reached the verification of the prices. Within 120 seconds, the cost of the return trip had miraculously jumped by around US$60. (Well, as somebody once mentioned, we are in the Holy Land.)

The expletives were not slow to emerge. Strangely enough, an hour previously, I had read an article that noted how El Al was ranked 34th out of 42 airlines for operational punctuality. Their CEO is demanding better performance from his staff.

Ironic, I thought to myself: At least my national airline is pretty damn prompt at asking for extra money from me. So, if the company is not worried about its pricing policy, I duly gave them some free publicity and blogged what happened to me on Facebook. That means that not only my friends heard about the story, so did the friends of the numerous people who added a like or comment.

At my daughter’s suggestion, I also let El Al know what was going on via their FB page. Who knows if they will respond, or how quickly?

However, permit me to throw on my hat as a business mentor and coach. There is a much more important lesson here. As a friend pointed out, the price hike was caused by the use of an aggressive algorithm, which many / most / all airlines use.

I wonder how much extra traffic El Al could draw to its website if it actively practiced and advertised a policy of not using such algorithms. In other words, their clientele would feel safer and better protected!

That would position El Al a large cut above their competitors in the skies. It would show that El Al genuinely cared about its customers. As their passengers are always told at the end of each flight, “we know you have a choice”.

The question is does the management of El Al understand the true meaning of that statement?

PS: For the record, I stuck with El Al, booking to return on a different flight which cost the original price I had intended to pay. However, it is inconvenient.

 

It’s the beginning of the week. The coffee is flowing. We are all aware of the subconscious that is screaming out “how can I make today meaningful?”. And that does not matter whether you are the big boss or the newbie in the outfit. What is it that you can do that will make a difference for yourself and for those around you?

I want to introduce you to three inspiring items that have come across my path in the past 24 hours. By sharing them with you and by comprehending the simplicity of these actions, I hope to inspire you towards that something extra special.

The first item comes from Sunday’s demonstration in central London. This was the annual march of those people who support Hizbollah, and it is known as a hate fest against Jews and Israel. Attempts to ban the event fail, as only the military wing of the movement is considered terrorist.

So imagine the sight. On a summer’s day, around 3,000 angry demonstrators are about to set forth, with full police protection. And then suddenly, the whole show comes to a stop before it has started.

Mark Lewis is a prominent lawyer in London. He is also confined to a wheelchair, due to MS. His treatment has been the subject of a television documentary. With the help of his partner, he merely wheeled himself out to the beginning of the path of the procession. The effect? The police refused to let the demonstrators proceed until the threatening (?) obstacle was removed.

Brave, daring and highly effective. I can but assume that the police feared for the safety of Lewis, although why anybody would want to attack a person in a wheelchair is beyond me.

Moving on, this morning I found myself listening to a TED Talk on why some people live longer than others. Delivered by Susan Pinsker in August 2017, exercise and better diets were not the core items of her approach. She emphasised “close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions”. And she added that in general, women excel in these fields better then men, and they live longer.

However, let us be honest. How many of us – particularly those from the big cities – struggle in performing such basic social functions as saying hello to the janitor in the office or smiling at colleagues? I have to admit that last summer I was on holiday in Cornwall, England, and locals would just greet you with a friendly ‘good morning’. It took me 48 hours to acclimatise.

Similarly, I opened a link on Facebook from Jay Shetty. The original post, which I cannot find, came from a marriage guidance counsellor. He can predict with extreme accuracy, which marriages will last, or not. The trick is in the little things – the email sent for no particular reason but expressing love, the extra kiss of care on the forehead, sharing a TV night in together, etc. All of these ideas rarely cost large amounts of money.

The link between all three items is that very often it does not take a lot to make that essential difference, whether it be in the world of politics or everyday social situations. What we are required to do is take five minutes of quality time in order to think carefully and quietly and with due purpose.

Have a great day!

 

 

TechCrunch Tel Aviv 2018, held last week, was yet another thrilling exhibition of Israeli entrepreneurship. As one speaker described it – the ability to find a big problem and then to create a global solution.

I was particularly struck by the observations of Uri Levine, the founder of Waze . It is five years since he sold out to Google for over US$1 billion. Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, he announced that he had arrived on a bicycle.

And Levine posed the question: If today Israel is a leader in automobile technology – just think how ironic that statement is, when you reflect on the Arab oil embargo of old – what is the next target industry? Construction maybe? That too would be ironic in light of the poor building safety standards in the Holy Land.

There are those who argue that not enough software engineers are produced by the local education system. Professor Eugene Kandel, CEO of Start-UP Nation Central, discussed in a newspaper article on Friday that only 7% of the workforce is employed in high-tech. That figure should double in order for the country to maintain its competitive advantage.

As if to prove the point, Amazon is opening a huge warehouse centre in Israel. In order to staff this operation, the company is stealing / enticing / bribing techies away from Intel and other r&d leaders in the country. And these companies are already considered amongst the top payers.

According to an article in the newspaper “Ha’aretz”, a software engineer costs an Israeli employer around US$130,000 per annum. This compares to US$35,000 for an Indian.

Interestingly, the cost of employing somebody from the Palestinian territories is about US$42,000. And it appears that this is one of the areas the Israelis are turning to. TechCrunch featured the cooperation with firms in Gaza. Mellanox, an Israeli company quoted on NASDAQ, employs over 100 Palestinians.

What next for the Start-Up Nation? Chemi Peres from Pitango believes that Israel has shown the way forward in AI, which connects IOT to with human intelligence. His portfolio already includes companies looking at flying cars.

I grew up in West London. I have been supporting Chelsea FC since I can remember. Last summer, like a little schoolboy, I took a tour of the club. Should I be pleased that Roman Abramovich, owner of the team and who has pumped hundreds of millions to secure success, has come to live in Israel?

It has been a rough few weeks for the Russian billionaire. Chelsea’s results have not met his expectations this season. He was refused a work visa to enter England (and thus missed Chelsea’s one triumph), probably on the back of the recent spying scandal. Plans to develop a new £500m stadium have been shelved. Rumours abound over key players to be released, as well as the possibility of him selling his properties in the UK.

Out of the blue, Abramovich announced that he is coming to live in Israel, a move which would earn him the title of the wealthiest person in the country. Under Israel’s updated “law of return” for Jews, he would be entitled to a healthy range of tax breaks for ten years.

In the framework of what is referred to as the Milchan Law, Abramovich gets a 10-year exemption from tax and from reporting to the tax authorities in Israel on income and property originating overseas.

Abramovich already has several investments in Israel. For example, in 2015, he acquired the Varsano boutique hotel in Tel Aviv for NIS 100 million, which he is converting into his Israeli home. A year previously, he invested US$10 million in StoreDot, which develops fast batteries for cars and smart phones. He has also invested US$0.5 million in an Israeli-Russian medical consultation group.

But why the publicity over the announcement? Abramovich is man who represents the typical oligarch, who made his fortune as Russia emerged out of the mess of the USSR. His path to success was solidified by massaging good relations with the Kremlin. As one Israeli journalist wrote today, he surely has the blessing of Putin to live in Israel.

And if Putin is involved, the mind starts to wander. To be blunt, people in Israel view Putin as ex-KGB, who rules Russia like a benevolent dictator. Who around him has not become mega-rich over the past couple of decades?

You have to assume that all this will have an impact on Israel’s relations with Russia. How? We can but speculate. The Israeli Prime Minister is another politician who has let himself be surrounded by those who have attained financial success. I wonder what the American State Department is thinking.

I do not normally reproduce word for word a press announcement, but this one comes with a real punch. Coming from Israel’s Innovation Authority, the subject matter is:

South Korea and Japan’s Largest Corporations – Toyota, Hyundai, Yaskawa, Mitsubishi, Samsung and Fujitsu – to Meet with Israeli Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR & AR) Companies

On the surface, so what? Most of these conglomerates already have r&d centres in the Holy Land. Now think again!

It is still only three decades ago that these firms and many like them complied with the Arab Boycott of Israel. Today, that evil discrimination has evolved into BDS. As I have written many times in the past, this is just a politically correct version of anti-Semitism.

When you read the message below, just imagine how less well off the world would be if it boycotted such advances pioneered in Israel.
Tel Aviv, May 27, 2018 – The 5th ‘Road Show’ sponsored by the Foreign Trade Administration of the Israel Ministry of Economy and Industry and the Israel Innovation Authority will take place in South Korea and Japan from May 27th-31st. This year’s delegation is comprised of companies from the fields of virtual and augmented reality (AR & VR) and robotics. Seven Israeli companies will meet with business entities, production facilities, government officials and leading Japanese and South Korean corporations in a number of cities with the goal of strengthening trade and business relations.

Participants in the road show – organized by the Asia-Pacific Division at the Israel Innovation Authority, the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry’s Trade Mission in Tokyo, and by the KORIL Korea-Israel Foundation – include companies in the fields of AR and VR such as: Asymmetric Medical LTD, Newsight Imaging, Elbit Systems Land and C4I, Intuitive, Actiview, Elbit Systems HQ and White Raven.

The road show is just one important element in the range of activities carried out by the Israel Innovation Authority to make the Far East and Asian markets more accessible to wide sectors of Israeli industry. In light of the complementary nature of Israeli and South Korean and Japanese innovation, potential for technological cooperation between the countries is significant. Countries throughout Asia are seeking to invest in advanced technological solutions and are looking for innovative components to implement in their products.

The week-long series of meetings will enable the Israeli companies to have direct interaction with local companies, and lay the groundwork for significant R&D cooperation, investment and future business opportunities.

Israeli Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen: “We are excited by the enormous global interest in Israeli innovation. The road show will assist several Israeli companies to penetrate Asian markets and is one more stage in the deepening technological and economic cooperation already taking place. This is an additional tool in the toolkit we have developed over the past few years to promote Israeli companies in the Asian market in a number of areas.”

“The world of robotics is a broad and highly advanced field in Japan and South Korea, but still has plenty of opportunities for growth and development,” emphasized Avi Luvton, Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific Division of the Israel Innovation Authority. “The combination of Israeli innovation with Japanese and South Korean capabilities may lead to significant cooperation in these fields.”

Noa Asher, Trade Attaché in the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry’s Trade Mission in Japan, said: “There is significant interest in this delegation in Japan, which included intensive meetings with leading Japanese companies like Fujitsu and NTT, as well as a seminar supported by the Japanese government. Japanese companies are scouting for innovative technologies in Israel. Robotics is one of the significant fields of interest in Japan, due to the government’s desire to advance the Japanese manufacturing industry while preserving its position in the face of competition from China and South Korea.”

Deborah Schabes, Director of the KORIL Korea-Israel Fund in Israel, noted: “In South Korea, as in Israel, there is a lot of R&D in robotics in general and in related technologies. Among the South Korean companies that will take part in the seminar and meet the delegation are Samsung Research, NT Robot, Hyundai Motor, as well as government research institutes.”

For additional details:
Brandon Weinstock
Foreign Media Advisor to the Israel Innovation Authority
052-7567211
innovationisrael@headline.media

Last week, the Israeli air force deliberately released a picture, depicting one of its new F-35s flying serenely over Beirut, arguably the first operational sortie of its kind in the Middle East. Clearly a big wow, and obviously sending a message towards the Iranian leadership.

Let me move on from the diplomacy and recall that F-35s are manufactured by Lockheed Martin. This huge conglomerate has been supplying Israel with planes for decades. However, the commercial links between the defense manufacturer and the Holy Land are just as significant.

For example, Lockheed Martin is estimated to have spent around US$1 billion is reciprocal purchasing arrangements in Israel since 2010. Back in 2015, it had already invested US$10 million in Cybereason, whose software prevents the hacking of large systems. And last week, the company opened a new office in the desert town of BeerSheva to coordinate its operations with the Israeli army.

What I have found fascinating is the latest news that Lockheed Martin is to open a preschool facility in Jerusalem called “Madakids”. (Mada means science in Hebrew).  It is to be deliberately located in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of the city, aimed at giving children a chance to develop their instinctive innovative skills.

The project is a first for the company, which is known to invest in primary and secondary schooling around the globe. The investment will only cover the funding of the science curriculum.

The clashes on the Israel-Gaza border fence came to a head 2 weeks ago. At the cost of 60 lives, the leadership of Hamas secured an international PR triumph, while Israel ensured that no violent protesters were left free to attack townships nearby.

But what did the average Palestinian obtain out of his violence? After all, since the protests began on 30th March, about 120 people have been killed. According to Amira Hass in Ha’aretz, who is known for excellent contacts in the Palestinian territories, 42 were members of Hamas. A further 20 or so belong to another terrorist organization, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigades. Why the 58 remaining citizens were not prevented from going into a war zone is beyond me.

It is well established that the economic situation in Gaza is simply dire. In fact, one person was recently filmed committing suicide, possibly due to financial distress. The World Bank’s latest report details: –

  • 44% unemployment.
  • A drop in real wages by 27% since Hamas seized power from the Palestinian Authority a decade ago.
  • At least a third of the population survives below the poverty line.
  • Most of the water is unfit for drinking, while there are frequent power cuts.
  • And so the list goes on.

How much would it take to fix all this? According to an item in Yediot Ahronot newspaper, US$1.3 billion alone is required to clear up the water system. And relaxing border regulations with Egypt and Israel would contribute and additional 11% to the GDP – although for now this is unlikely, because the main export from Gaza is terror.

In parallel, there still appears to be enough resources available to invest in the continuous improvement of Hamas’ offensive capabilities, despite the freeze in wages.

Now pause for a moment. While people were dying in Gaza, what was the situation in the West Bank? Troubles and protests? Yes, but to a very limited extent.

Let me explain the difference, by looking forward to an event, which is due to take place in Jerusalem in May 2019. That is when Israel is expected to host the Eurovision Song Contest. Amongst the significant logistical demands that such a show creates, the host city will be flooded with thousands of additional tourists and also members of the numerous TV crews.

Jerusalem only has about 9,000 hotel beds. Capacity is normally high in May in an average year. Thus, other cities will be called into help to take up the slack, and that list will probably include Bethlehem and its 1,000 bed capacity. In other words, Israel can share part of this economic bonanza with the Palestinians, who are hardly likely to boycott this cultural cooperation.

Can you imagine Hamas accepting such cooperation and an influx of capital? In doing so, it would have to give up on its policy of violence.

 

This week, Palestinians are being encouraged to demonstrate, and in some cases, violently. Today, America will open its embassy in Jerusalem. Tomorrow will see the culmination of six weeks of riots on the border with Gaza, which ties in with Naqba Day.

One of the motivating factors behind these tensions is the poverty in the Palestinian territories. And it is generally accepted that Israel is to blame for all the woes. Israel is rich. Israel occupies. Ergo, Palestinians are poor.

The fact that the leaders of Fatah, the main faction of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Hamas are stinking rich seems to be irrelevant. Similarly dismissed is the issue that under Israel governance, the Palestinian economy boomed until the late 1990s.

Ha’aretz, an Israeli paper not known for being sympathetic to the current government, gave light on Friday to a very different approach. It discussed how at a recent Fatah conference in Ramallah, the non payment by the PA of April’s salary to 40,000 civil servants in Gaza was the hot topic.

Remember that it is now over a decade since Hamas violently eradicated the PA from the Gaza Strip. And the attempt on the life of the PA Prime Minister while visiting Gaza is still seen as a major insult by President Abbas.

These civil servants represent about 14% of the work force in Gaza. The value of their salaries is about 80 million shekels, the equivalent of a little over US$20 million. Throw in the fact that Hamas has increased taxes over the past year, and all this adds up to a dearth of money in the Gaza economy…. in the very week that Ramadan is about to commence.

According to Reuters, May’s wages have turned up, but with a 20% pay cut automatically docked. The squeeze is on, and Israel is merely a bystander in this powerplay? Well, not entirely. Potentially, it could up even further the humanitarian supplies flowing into the costal territory via the Kerem Shalom crossing point.

The problem is that on Friday the border post was thrashed by Palestinians, causing an estimated US$9 million worth of damage. As if to make my point for me, an Israeli news site reported that:

A Palestinian source in Gaza, meanwhile, told Ynet that Hamas has been profiteering considerably as a result of the crossing’s destruction. The Kerem Shalom crossing is operated by the Palestinian Crossings Authority, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) rather than Hamas, he noted.

The source then explained that Hamas was encouraging rioters to damage crossings, thereby causing the PA to lose revenue from customs and other taxes levied on incoming goods.

Bringing the goods in through the Rafah border crossing, the source added, will allow Hamas to pocket such tax levies.

The riots over the next few days will distract international news media partially from reporting on the American embassy in Jerusalem. They will help to sow new hatred, both between rival factions and against Israel. They will also ensure that the poverty remains exactly where it is, so that swords are not turned into ploughshares.

Time to blame Israel again?

 

Today, Sunday 13th May, is Jerusalem Day, recalling the unification of the city in 1967. Tomorrow, the USA will formerly moves its embassy to the Holy City. Tuesday is Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe), which Palestinians describe as the day when the modern state of Israel was created in 1948.

Exhausting? Wednesday sees two other embassies inaugurated and Friday is the start of Ramadan for Muslims. I think the police may have cancelled all leave!

Why all the fuss? I think that part of the answer lies in the numbers. Since 1967, the city has grown from 266,300 to 882,700 citizens. 62% are Jewish, of whom 41% can be described as members of the ultraorthodox communities.

These numbers continue to grow. The average number of births per family is 3.2 children including both sides of the religious divide. However, there is a much larger figure for religious Jewish families.

As is almost customary at this time of the year, the government announces special schemes for the capital. One item that caught my eye is the 445m shekel allocation, about US$125 million, for improving the education sector for the Arab community.

Spread over five years, the plan takes in several aspects. These include advancing courses in innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as  in non-formal methods of teaching. I was also encouraged by the increased emphasis to be placed on teaching Hebrew, thus securing a greater level of integration.

And if you still think that Jerusalem’s economy remains based around tourism and the government ministries, take a look at these three headlines from the past month or so:

The city is hungry for more growth. Long may it be united, open to all-comers

The hostile interview conducted by the BBC of the Israel ambassador in London, Mark Regev, is seen as typical as to the way many view the government in Jerusalem. Somehow the show’s host seemed to ignore that Iran had sent a fuselage of 20 rockets of Israeli civilian centres and implied that the Israeli retaliation through heavy air strikes was out of place.

Less than a month ago, Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel, attended a different aerial display. Barely spending a day in the Holy Land, he attended the official ceremony, celebrating 70 years since the country was founded. The central focus of an event was a special display of Intel’s Shooting Star fleet of 300 drones.

Intel has been associated with Israel since 1974, a period when the old Arab boycott was in its heyday. Today, there are roughly 11,000 workers, approximately 10% of the company’s manpower, spread over five sites, including one in north Jerusalem. The chips for the world’s current generation of computers are developed in Israel.

Intel’s exports from Israel are valued at over US$3.5 billion dollars, a nice chunk of the firm’s US$ 62 billion in global sales. There are current plans to invest a further US$ 5 billion in the country, in addition to the US$11 billion already spent.

Krzanich’s trip was his second to Israel in as many months. In March he had turned up to meet with the Jerusalem-based automotive chipmaker Mobileye , which Intel had purchased for US$15.3 billion a year earlier.

His interview with the Yediot Ahronot with Sever Plocker newspaper was revealing. He described how Intel is in Israel not just for the government grants and support. He values deeply the country’s human resources and intellectual skills. And he went further, referring to Mobileye’s contribution:

In 10-15 years time, we will look back and ask ourselves how we were able to live without automatic cars….

And I have to ask myself: Will that same BBC reporter and his ilk ever be able to come to terms with the many positive contributions Israel makes to this world, including the brave decisions it takes when responding to tyrant regimes?

My friend Seth Vogelman, a commercial connector from Jerusalem, sent me an intriguing blog called “The unintended consequences of a too-nice work culture” by Jonah Sachs. Bottom line? Lower level colleagues are so afraid of offending others that vital information is not passed on and upwards.

In other words, the corporate outlook may be chummy and pally, but the opportunity for increased profits is dulled.

As a business mentor, I have seen this scenario played out several times, when entrepreneurs approach investors. As the former try to endear themselves to the person authorizing the cheque, they become over charming. All well and good, but what is of more interest to the target is whether the business owner can be hard enough to drive a new enterprise. A smile may get you some of the way, but only so far.

I recall that in one of my former positions in a large corporate in Jerusalem, I did everything I could to curry favour with the top team. And yes, I was appreciated. However, the colleague  – a really nice guy, I add – who secured the advancement was the one who reported in straight terms as to what needed to be changed.

Some people see business mentors and coaches as having the role of playing “Mr. Nice Guy”. I have long since picked out such potential clients as the ones that I am unlikely to sign with. My role may be to show empathy, but not to hide the sometimes painful facts.

Just this week, I met up with some young entrepreneurs with an interesting idea for a innovative app. By the end of the conversation, I had demanded a rethink. The market was too narrow and they had not conducted a reasonable survey of consumer expectations, amongst other issues. They looked a bit numb, but appreciated the frank approach.

And today, I encouraged yet another client to go back to their accountant and demand that they produce financial statements that have meaning. Why book keepers so often have to forced into making their reports functional is beyond me.

And for those who do not like confrontation on the work floor? Just think of the damage caused by not sorting out the mess, firmly yet with a smile.

 

 

Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, has described Israel as “incredible“, a very neat follow up to a recent post, where the question was posed “what makes Israel so different?”.

I raise the issue because this week the Holy Land is yet again forced to defend itself against its verbal protagonists. The Israeli act is one of the leading contenders in the Eurovision Song Contest, which will be screened this week to hundreds of millions of people globally. Those haters of the Jewish State from the BDS campaign are reportedly targeting the event, demanding a boycott of Israeli culture.

I do not intend to spend yet more time, explaining why BDS is so segregationist. Certainly, its proponents spend little time on the evils of North Korea or elsewhere. What is of more interest is how Israel is having such a positive role in the world’s commercial and cultural life. Just look at this series of events, all news items over the past few days.

  1. Giro d’Italia. For the first time, part of this magnificent race was held outside Europe, hosted for three days this month in Israel. 175 riders competed from 22 teams. The exposure of hundreds of journalists, as well as the TV scheduling into millions of homes in cycing enthusiasts was a phenomenal achievement.
  2. Whisky Live, Tel Aviv. For the fourth time, Tel Aviv played host to numerous distilleries from Scotland. Israel is proving to be a small but growing part of their export industry, as imports have risen over 300% in the last five years.
  3. Also coming to Israel is a Beetle, Ringo Starr. He has just added a second date to his June schedule in Tel Aviv.
  4. Arriving in Israel this week are the delegates to Israel’s premier Agritech exhibition. Israel is a country with over 750 start ups in the agri-food sector. No wonder that there will be representatives from over 100 countries, which means several are based in places which do not recognise Israel officially.
  5. Frutarom is an Israeli company that has sought to grow through acquisitions. Now the boot is on the other foot, as International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. jumped into a rush of dealmaking in the food-flavoring industry, agreeing to buy Israel’s Frutarom Industries Ltd.for $7.1 billion including debt.
  6. And for the last item, I run off to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. The authorities have agreed to issue visas to Israeli tourists, a complete slap in the face for BDS.

I have not had time to mention the three embassies that are about to move to Jerusalem.  And so the list goes on.

By the way, if for one moment you thought that all of these changes only applied to one sector of the population, I caution you. Just see who are the prime buyers in the new luxury car market in Israel!

Last week’s demonstration by approximately 2,000 Jews in central London against overt anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party provoked one very definitive outcry by observers of all religions. To summarise: How is it possible that in the year 2018, in a country that prides itself on accepting differing cultures and where Jews have made such a contribution for hundreds of years, they feel threatened and unsafe?

Seasoned journalist and commentator, Melanie Phillips, penned the penetrating observation that:

What the left cannot grasp is that the new antisemitism uses almost identical tropes against Israel, the collective Jew…..Labour will never rid itself of antisemitism while it supports Palestinianism. The choice it faces is said to be between Corbyn and the Jews. In fact, the choice is between Palestinianism and the Jews.

I connect these remarks to a small yet pertinent stat that I read this morning. This coming Wednesday evening, for 24 hours, Israel will commemorate the annual Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism. 23,645 people make up this number (so far), including 3,134 civilians, while the total population today is about 8.1 million.

However, what shook me was that of the 101 names added to the list during the past twelve months, 12 of them were civilians killed….just because they are Israelis. It shows most candidly how the one Jewish country in the world remains an anathema to so many and thus becomes an excuse for anti-Semitism.

A nickname for an Israeli is “sabra”. This is a fruit indigenous to the Holy Land, known to be prickly on the outside yet sweet inside. However, Israelis do not forget too readily. Yesterday was Holocaust Day, where the sirens sound at 10.00am for two minutes. People stand in silence. Drivers stop their cars and briefly step outside.

There is even a video on Facebook of Israeli tourists in Thailand, standing in remembrance at 10.00am local time around the pool. That is the meaning of the sanctity of life for Israelis.

And elsewhere in the Middle East? Should I write about chemical attacks on innocent civilians in Syria? Should I contemplate the public executions of homosexuals in Iran? Or the fact that today, the Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border with Israel will continue their peaceful spontaneous protest with all the violence they can muster, planned in advance.

I’ll stick with the values of Israel, 70 years old this week and still going very strong, for the benefit of its citizens, the UK and the rest of the world.

 

On the surface, it is that time of year when the Israelis and Palestinians are about to strike up another round in their war of rhetoric. Tomorrow, residents of Gaza are threatening to march on the border fence with Israel. The week has already witnessed a series of illicit border crossings.

And meanwhile, the USA is ready to impose financial sanctions on the Palestinian Authority if it continues to use its budget to support convicted terrorists in Israeli prisons. Sweet news for Israelis, who have been campaigning on this issue for nearly two decades, to the understandable disgust of their opponents.

So, the summer Mediterranean heat is nearly upon us. The politicians are becoming more agitated. The peace process is looking more and more like a stagnant pond.

And yet………

Just over a month ago, the Israeli Minister of Finance, Moshe Kahlon, paid a visit to Ramallah. Press reports indicate that this was his third meeting since June 2017 with the Palestinian Prime Minister, and the next one is planned to take place in Jerusalem. Evidently both Abbas and Netanyahu are fully aware of all the details.

What has been on the agenda?

  1. Setting up a joint industrial zone near Modi’in Illit. Not solely designed for Palestinians, it will also target finding employment for around 2,000 ultra orthodox Jews.
  2. Reaching an understanding so that the tens of thousands of Palestinian labourers in Israel receive full pension rights, which are also paid out accordingly.
  3. Further improvement of the sewage systems, as the polluted drain offs have made its way into Israel.
  4. Improvements to the Palestinian mobile phone infrastructure.

Kahlon is not the only Israeli minister who has visited the Palestinian territories. Eli Cohen, the Minister for the Economy and a colleague in the same political party, has been looking at ways to improve the road system around a Palestinian new city.

I would not leap into the air too much over these moves. However, they do show what can be accomplished when there is good will on both sides. They also reveal the level of nonsense surrounding the public rhetoric of the negotiations from both sides.

This weekend, Jews around the world celebrate the festival of Passover, when Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt. May senior politicians of both sides find the strength and wisdom to create more such talks, rather than guide their followers towards violence along border fences.

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