Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem Blog

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.

Ashkelon is a growing costal city. For tourists, it is replete with Roman ruins. In biblical times, the Jewish prophet, Samson, conquered the Philistines nearby. Today, Ashkelon’s new power station provides Hamas – ruled Gaza with approximately 70% of its energy requirements.

Ashkelon is home to over a 100,000 citizens, trying to live their lives in peace.

Instead, the residents live with the ever present threat of Kassam rockets, launched almost daily from Gaza. Take November 14th, when 4 of the 122mm Grad class rockets were launched at the city. One landed in the main shopping centre.

For those who do not know, a rocket is not a sophisticated weapon and cannot be properly directed, unlike a missile. Thus, a rocket’s targets are randomly picked out. Frightening! In fact, it’s downright immoral and disgusting.

There are those who try to explain away the actions of the perpetrators. The weapons are used for defensive purposes only, it is claimed. But Ashkelon has no military structures. Its hospital (which treats Palestinians as well), the academic college, schools, and even the power station itself – they have all been targeted by Palestinian factions.

Others argue that the Palestinians have a legal and moral right to reply to incurssions by the Israeli military into Gaza. OK, but none of that gives Hamas or the Islamic Jihad a mandate to target civilians, aimlessly. 

Check out this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luiyXA_r2aA It shows Kassam missiles, being fired aimlessly from a school vicinity. If you ask me, the groups responsible for such actions are using politically acceptable spin to cover their own crimes.

I spoke to a leading businessman, who lives in Ashkelon with his family. He explained that an outsider cannot understand what it is like to cope . You may get a few seconds notice, before the “incoming” lands. The proverbial “whoosh” becomes as chilling as the deafening explosive destruction of the final impact. Where did it land? In the neighbour’s garden? The industrial zone? The roof of our local grocery?

Why should they have to live like that?

Ashkelon is under attack. And the world does not care! The UN’s meagre response is to demand that Israel desists from protecting itself against the launchers of terror. Viva Munich and 1938…. only 70 years ago.

Last month, I wrote about Shimon Peres’s forthcoming trip to the UK. I have just received an official briefing from “Parliament Today”, summarising the meeting of Peres with Lord Mandelson, who has the portfolio of Business Secretary in the cabinet.

 

The following are edited highlights of a long statement. They demonstrate exactly how other countries can benefit from Israel’s desire for peace and its global commitment.

 

It reads…….

The UK aims to raise trade between the two countries to £3 billion per year by 2012. Israeli President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and Lord Mandelson jointly addressed a meeting of about 200 UK business leaders at Mansion House in London, hosted by the Lord Mayor of the City of London Ian Luder today.

 

The Business Secretary said:

“This is an age of great promise and immense global change – driven by the rapid development of new technologies and powerful flows of ideas, people, goods, services and capital across borders. Interdependence defines this new world.”

Lord Mandelson said that nowhere was this more evident than in the current global financial crisis, “the first great test of our new multi-polar globalised world.” “We cannot act by ourselves any more. We have to act together or we will not act at all,” he said.

 

The UK has the aim of achieving bilateral trade worth #3bn per year by 2012, a rise from the 2007 level of #2.3 billion. Opportunities exist in financial services, bio-technology, ICT, medical equipment and software, and also in creative industries, including film-making.

“Your country’s prudent fiscal policy, structural reforms and investment in education and hi-tech industries have encouraged strong growth, foreign investment and consumer spending and left your economy well placed to withstand the current global downturn,” Lord Mandelson said.

 

The International Monetary Fund recently forecast that the Israel economy, which has grown at over 5% per year for the last three years, will grow at 4.3% this year and 2.8% in 2009.

 

Notes to Editors:

1. Israel is the UK’s third biggest export market in the Middle East with leading British companies including HSBC, Unilever and Rolls Royce managing major interests there. The UK is also Israel’s third largest destination for exports. Over 250 Israeli firms are based in the UK.

2. Over 40 Israeli firms are now listed on the London Stock Exchange. Fourteen are listed on the Alternative Investment Market.

3. UK Trade & Investment is the UK Government’s international business development organisation, supporting businesses seeking to establish in the UK and helping UK companies grow internationally.

The world economic slowdown has kept the Palestinian economy off the front pages of world media. Sure, the “Free Gaza” campaign has sent in a few boats to highlight how they see that Israel is to blame for all the poverty of the Palestinians.

The facts on the ground indicate a more intricate set of issues.

One such story is the olive harvest, worth an estimated US$140 million to Palestinian farmers. Over the past few months, there had been concerns that Israeli military movement would hinder the harvest. But to quote an army  spokesperson:

As a part of preparations for this year’s harvest, meetings were held between Israel’s Civil Administration and Palestinian counterparts. The meetings included representatives of the various villages, as well as important figures from the Palestinian Authority (PA) including the PA Olive Oil Department…”

The statement continued: “The harvest has yielded approximately 24,000 tons of olive oil, compared to last year’s 8000 ton yield. 114,000 tons of olives were harvested (compared to 41,000 tons last year), 7,000 of which will be pickled and 107,000 tons are designated for production of olive oil. An estimated 7,000 tons of the olive oil produced will be marketed in Israel.”

On the downside are trends in Palestinian society, which do not enhance economic development. A press release form Hamas on November 5th referred to the proposed “noble Islamic religious law”. This will impact directly on the banking system, employment laws, contracts and other areas of commerce.

This legislation will directly contradict the reforms demanded by the IMF and The Quartet. It has to be noted that a few of these changes have already been implemented by Fayyad, the Prime Minister under President Abbas. Fayyad, a banker with an international reputation, has been consistently ignored and rejected by Hamas.

The law coincides with the continuing decline in basic freedoms, as reported by the Palestinian NGO, the Independent Commission for Human Rights. It is not not just the arbitrary arrests or unwarranted attacks on private property. In October, the Commission received 70 separate complaints from teachers being dismissed by the Palestinian Ministry of Education because of their private political views. 

Yesterday, Tuesday, the Bank of Israel unexpectedly reduced its rate of interest to 3%, the lowest since 1948. This is a sure sign of the concern that a “mother of world recessions” is beginning to impact on the Israeli economy. Growth forecasts for 2009 are already under 2%  – around 4% for 2008.

Shadowing that news are 3 positive signs that not all is doom and gloom. Panic is neither desired nor necessary.

Take Teva, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs, whose center is located in Jerusalem’s biotech hub. It has just reported for the third quarter, with sales and profits far exceeding analysts’ predictions. And, as President elect Obama prepares policies for worldwide accessibility to cheaper drugs, Teva’s future looks just as healthy.

On a second front, I was involved with a new and high quality conference in Jerusalem. Held last week, MarcShoret brought together many of Israel’s sales directors and biz dev managers from leading high tech companies. Delegates from Sandisk, ECTel, N-trig and many others came to learn how they can fight the global downturn. The presentations and discussions were of the highest calibre, demonstrating inner strengths of the industry.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, the Venture Capital Research Center has revealed that investments in Israeli high tech sector rose 45% to US$600 million in the third quarter of 2008, compared to the same three months last year. Sure, the final patch of 2008 is not expected to do nearly as well.

Now, when you consider that a total of US$1.68 billion has been raised during the first 9 months of this year, it means that a lot of companies are sitting on a lot of cash. There is still a lot of “gold in dem hills of the Holyland”, a whole load of sales.

In July 1939, my wife’s family fled from Berlin. 8 months previously, their Synagogue had been destroyed during Kristallnacht. 24 hours of orchestrated pogroms saw thousands of Jewish prayer houses burnt, books from Jewish academics and authors left in cinders, and tens of thousands deported to camps.

In the evening of November 9th 1938, Mr David Weiler returned from his tour of destruction and took out his Bible. The weekly reading referred to Abraham, receiving an instruction to leave the land of his birth and go to the land of Israel. The father of the Jewish nation packed his bags, and Mr Weiler prepared to do the same.

Flash forward 70 years. One of Mr Weiler’s great grandchildren, my son, also called David, yesterday returned from a week-long tour of the concentration camps in Poland. He is 17.5 years old and went with his school.

The stories he has come back with are not so easy to digest. At Maidjenek, he photographed a memorial containing 7 tons of embers of dead souls. At Treblinka, they toured a camp built for the singular purpose of mass, efficient slaughter. In Warsaw, they stood at the spot where Jews were violently rounded up and then sent on a free trip to hell.

They met good Poles. They were also insulted by elderly pensioner. Even a 10 year old threw a piece of rotten fruit at them.

Back in Israel, the group went straight from the airport to the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. They held morning prayers, sang the national anthem, danced to celebrate their freedom, and went home with their thoughts.  2 miles to the north, on the Mount of Olives, lies the tomb of my great grandfather. He had come to Palestine to retire, passing away in 1943, as the Warsaw ghetto was being raised.

It is 70 years since Kristallnacht. Congo, Rwanda, Cambodia and even Poland in 1968 show how we have yet to learn the true lessons of the Holocaust.

In parallel, in the comfort of London’s sheltered academia, we can look out towards the student’s union at Goldsmith’s College. This week, they are hosting an event to compare the horrors of the Holocaust to the current state of Gaza. The union will call for a boycott of Israeli organisations, just as the Nazi Party organised on Kristallnacht. The poverty of Palestinians will be compared to those who were systematically sought out, rounded up, and gassed because of their religion. Hamas literature today refers to such events, positively.

The union’s language of hate and mockery will find a haven behind a wall of political correctness, the wall Nazis built to defend their Aryan race.

For those, who still do not know the difference between Warsaw in the early 1940s and Gaza today, I publish here a simplified table.

Issue

Warsaw Ghetto

Gaza Strip

How did they get there?

Forcibly round up  and sent there

Lived there for generations

Arrived there after wars with Israel

Went there to escape from Egypt

Allowed out?

Under no circumstances – under threat of death

Israel allows 10s of thousands every day to work in Israel.

Israel allows in medical cases.

Egypt maintains a blockade.

Supplies allowed in?

No

Israel sends in continuous supplies, 5 days a week.

Mass smuggling campaign.

Egypt has closed its border.

Has other housing been provided?

No

Israel vacated the Gaza Strip in 2005. Not one person has been relocated from the camps since then.

Do people die of hunger?

Hundreds – daily

No

Is there an end in sight?

Yes – liquidation and slaughter

When Hamas agrees to recognize Israel, then peace can come quickly.

Resistance?

Pathetic  – and directed against troops

Daily rocket fire directed randomly against civilian targets in Israel.

Human rights

The world ignored the slaughter of 100s of thousands.

Hamas rejects freedom of press, persecutes Christians, and subjects women to second class status

 

 Can you spot the similarity?

 

My previous comments about a boycott of Israel and how that would affect trade with Muslim neighbours drew a fair amount of offline correspondence.

One person recalled the attempt of Egypt and Iraq to boycott M&S some years back. Most of his Arab acquaintances removed the labels before they went home. And then they discovered they didn’t need to anyway.

Today, I received some Israeli stats on the level of trade with countries in the Middle East.

 Change (T$)

1-9.2008 (T$)

1-9.2007 (T$)

Country

13,738

26,890

13,153

Gulf States

260

319

59

Algeria

718

1,863

1,145

Tunisia

-732

172

904

Iraq 

67,300

228,200

160,900

Jordan

5,100

17,200

12,100

Morocco

2,500

104,700

102,200

Egypt

88,884

379,344

290,461

Total

 

 

 

 

3,100

11,500

8,400

Indonesia

-30,600

25,100

55,700

Malaysia

 

Meanwhile, European Parliamentarians, through the “Free Gaza” campaign are increasing their demands for a boycott of Israel. If Israel’s neighbours do not feel the same way about a trade boycott, what do these protesters really hate?      Time for the truth to out!

 

 

 

 

 

All my visitors from abroad agree; There is something very special about walking around Jerusalem. The past 24 hours confirmed this truism yet again for myself.

Yesterday afternoon was bright, an unusually hot day for early November. I entered the Old City by Zion Gate. As I covered the 500 meters from the car to the gate, I passed on my left a chilling museum on the Holocaust. To the right was Dormition Abbey, still carrying out renovations after 30 years. (The Turkish architect of the walls of the city forgot to include this church in his plans, and thus lost his head!) And the colourful shops of the Armenian Quarter opened out in front of me.

Getting in to the Old City was annoyingly problematic. People were in the way; Not jus Israeli kids on school outings. Guides leading groups, and more groups and more groups. The place was packed, literally swarming with Christian tours from different continents. The impatient drivers gave up trying to hoot people out of the way.

I made my way towards the main Sephardi Synagogue, where I had arranged to meet a dear 80 year old friend, Ezra G. Unexpectedly, in walks a 30 strong party of young Germans. They were fascinated by the history and architecture of the building. And there were more visitors after that.

Now I will tell you what makes all of this so special? The second Intifada started in the year 2000. Since then, tourism has been in the dumps, until now. I cannot remember the last time Jerusalem, a centre for 3 religions, has been that packed. Good news for all.

But the icing on the cake came as I was retracing my steps to the car. I found myself facing southeast, with a direct view towards the Judean desert. I could see the red mountain tops bending towards the Dead Sea and over in to Jordan. A marvellous moment, which stopped me in my tracks even on such a busy day.

I suggest that it is a view that brings out immense feelings in even the most cynical of us. I invite you all to judge for yourselves.

Some positive news from the Israeli finance sector.

Ok, so the Tel Aviv stock exchange has lost “just” 17% of its value, while the FTSE world index is about 35% off since May 2008.

But what about the banking sector, where the credit crunch began? We know about Lehmans and Lloyds and even Icelandic savings schemes. We know that Gordon Brown and others are going round the Gulf States with their begging bowls.

In Israel, the situation looks encouragingly healthier. Here are just 3 of the latest positive recommendations.

  • Merrill Lynch added Tefahot Mizrahi Bank to its most preferred list for financials in emeging EMEA region. With phrases such as “a relatively safe haven” and “almost zero exposure to toxic wastes”, the bank is seen as a good short term option for safety.
  • A few days previously, on 22nd October, Deutsche Bank described the Israeli banking system as “in good shape, despite the challenges”. Hapoalim and Leumi were not seen as possessing assets that would create a threat to their future. It even upgraded Mizrahi shares to “buy”, as it was not dependent on cyclical issues.
  • These findings had already been echoed by a local investment house, Leader and Co back in mid September. It detailed the exposure levels of the 5 leading Israeli banks. For example, it noted that Leumi and Discount had some investments in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, but they were manageable. Again, Mizrahi was seen as a “bank of choice”.

Life is not all rosy in the Israeli economy. The high tech sector has announced approximately 1,000 lay offs in the past 2 weeks. Purchases of “white household goods” were markedly down in October.

What remains true is how the fundamentals of the economy continue to remain stable. That will serve Israel well as it fights its way through the next few months of world financial turmoil.

My posting on “Sky News-copper-Cupron” drove a large amount of traffic to the blog. It would be thrilling to see just how many lives could be saved or improved with a pilot project for the bed linen.

In a separate item, the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard have both written that the NHS service has frozen  a 12 billion quid computer record programme. Too many “glitches” and worse.

And yet it was only last week that I wrote about CEPCO , an Israeli software house, and its ability to collate and manage all of a patient’s medical records. If you backtrack to previous articles on this NHS failure, companies like Fujitsu, iSoft and Accenture all left the project months back.

So why CEPCO? Well the Germans have a scheme to set up something similar to the NHS. A local contractor has asked for a budget crossing the EU0.5 billion level, spread over several years. Alternatively, CEPCO can have it ready in 6 months for just a few million.

NHS fans wake up. German civil servants and politicians are working towards an operating decision on who will receive the lucrative – very lucrative – contract.

Viewers of Sky News this weekend have been treated to a synopsis of a thrilling pilot study designed to beat the super bug, MRSA, which has infested Britain’s hositals for years. 

A Birmingham hospital has switched door handles, taps and other surfaces to copper. The idea, “patented” by ancient Egyptians and other ancient civilisations, has been known to combat severe infections.

Where have these people been? If only they had spoken previously to Jeff Gabbay, CEO of Cupron, a small Israeli start up based in Bet Shemesh, midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Cupron has a series of copper-added products, ranging from clothing to cosmetics, that dramatically fight foot fungi, reduce wrinkles and destroy numerous bacteria.

Yes – Cupron has a package for hospital sheets, where diseases gather and hide. Nurses clean beds by shaking the sheets. In other words, with great irony, nurses are responsible for spreading the germs. Cupron’s copper-treated sheets significantly reduce that possibility.

Cupron is a typically small company. If you went inside their modest offices, you would never believe that this outfit can tackle MRSA, AIDS and many other horrors of the present decade.

Jeff loves to tell how he met with the NHS a couple of years back, but he could not get them to understand what he had to offer. I guess they are more now more interested in changing taps and tops in hundreds of hospitals than just simply purchasing some new bed linen.

Detractors of Israel often seek to punish their enemy by demanding a trade boycott with Jerusalem. 2008 has seen several such calls from EU, Norwegians and UK Parliamentarians, to name but a few.

Here’s the catch. If such calls were to be heeded, they would hurt some of the poorer Arab and Muslim countries.

  • On Monday 27th October, 160 Israeli and Jordanian businessmen participated in the fifth annual conference of the Israel-Jordan Chamber of Commerce. Those in attendance Mr. Omar El-Atoum, Economic Officer of the embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Israel. Israeli-Jordanian trade currently stands at over 300 million dollars. (Remember – in 1994, before the peace treaty, the figure was effectively zero). Jordanian exports to Israeli reached 54.2 million dollars, representing a 42% increase over the same period (Mainly chemical industrial products and agricultural produce). For an economy of Jordan’s size, that is a significant amount of revenue. 
  • Also this week, there was final approval to establish a Palestinian – Israel Chamber of Commerce. The Peres Ceter for Peace and the UK’s Portland Trust have been prime movers here. This must be seen as a primary step to promote deeper understanding and cooperation, which will match the heights of trade between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom.
  • On Wednesday, Israel’s ambulance service, MDA, signed what amounts to a joint-venture agreement with Indonesia’s Muhammadiyah organization. Cooperation between MDA and the Indonesian rescue and emergency organization began approximately one year ago, with the arrival of a delegation of Indonesian health and community organization officials for an MDA course in Israel. 

And the list goes on. It is worth listening to the words of some of the senior partners of Salens, an international legal outfit located in 19 countries. The company recently sponsored an event at the Israel – Britain Chamber of Commerce. They believe that the way out of the global recession will be found through emerging economies.

Clearly, Israel’s strong economy has an important part to play in this game. It is essential that its ability is used to the full and for the benefit of all.

For many, the typical Israeli female politician is represented in charactures of Golda Meir. And yet is is nearly 35 years since she left the job as Prime Minister.

It is not that Israel has a new brand of ladies in power. Impressively, Israeli society has developed very considerably since the days of Meir. Just as there is no man who represents all of Israel, so too the ladies have moved on and up.

Take Dalia Itzhik. She is currently the Speaker of the Kenesset. Now in her mid 50s, she grew up with 7 other siblings, and her mum could neither read nor write. She was recently voted by Newsweek as one of the 11 most influential women in the world.

Mona Alahbanin is the first female candidate to stand for the council elections of the Bedouin city of Rahat. Located on the northern edge of the Negev desert, the vote takes place on 11th November. Interestingly, throughout Israel, there will be a total of 33 women standing for the position of head of their respective councils – an increase of 35% over 5 years.

And, of course, Tzipi LIvni, is head of the ruling Kadima party, and is hoping to lead it to victory in the general elction in early February 2009.

So what’s the big deal? This week the BBC published a series of interviews with Islamic feminists. To claim that their Israeli counterparts have nothing to fight for would be inaccurate. However, the ladies in question would learn a lot from their colleagues in Israel if they would put away their old-hat political divisions and talk to them. Many Arab societies would benefit from such a new and refreshing dialogue with Israel.

Israeli stocks and shares have been buffeted as in most other countries. The shekel has suffered a 15% devaluation against the dollar, but has increased in value against most other major currencies. So, where to put your money?

Yesterday, I raised an interesting solution with a senior local financier. Our survey led us to believe that most investment possibilities today are either risky or bear little interest or both. However, if you are seeking a long-term bet, there is an alternative.

Israel start ups have seen great success over the past decade. HP, Boston Scientific, Microsoft have all made significant purchases of small dynamos from Tel Aviv and Herzylia. And the Israeli brain is still churning out new, exciting technologies, pointing to healthy revenue streams in the future.

For example, I have been working closely with CEPCO. Based in Hod Hasharon, they have developed a software, which is embedded on to a smart card with a USB application. This allows the card to collect, manage and export in a secure manner up to 32 GB of info – text, video, Xray and more. 

The first application of this platform has been directed to the medical care market. Citizens will own and possess in their pocket all their medical records, a dream for health funds until now.

What makes CEPCO interesting to an investor is not just that it has completed its r&d. An influential senior civil servant working intimately with German government health funds has welcomed the technology, opening up the CEPCO to a multi-million Euro market. Long-term funding will thus be secured, along with a partnership from the NAV, a German doctor’s association.

Dr Gunter Pollanz, the founder and chairman of CEPCO, told me that all that was missing was an immediate injection of Euro 300,000. This will create a subsiduary in Germany and a small software team for customization.

CEPCO is probably typical of many other companies in Israel, carrying on despite the tsunami sweeping world finacial markets. Savvy investors could do worse than look at such possibilites, especially while the safe blue chip altenatives like banks and insurance firms struggle to return back to base.

Yesterday, I met Avinoam Ben-Yitzhak, who is the Executive Director of “Yeladim

Yeladim, which is Hebrew for Children, is an established NPO, offering new opportunities for the 8,000 Israeli kids in external care – anything from extra tuition to language development to presents for the holidays.

Avinoam and I discussed a  number of avenues to develop revenue on behalf of the charity. As the conversation evolved a number of sad elements began to seep through.

First, Israel as a nation, whether you be Jew, Christian or Moslem, prides itself on resources and care given to children. But here are 8,000 under 18 year olds, of all different ethnic backgrounds, often shoved far away from mainstream society. At the end of the day, this is no shining example to others.

And think of the realtive numbers. 8,000. Way too high and very disappointing. That is almost the size of the town, where I live.

This stat is not the whole story. The authorities receive approx 500 calls of distress every month. That works out at 15 a day. I did not ask, but I assumed that not every story is supported with an adequate response.

It would be easy to blame the parents. But some families just cannot cope for financial or health reasons. I believe that our anger should be directed to those, who appear to treat this as another issue to be shoved out of sight. These youngsters are an important part of our future, the future we work so hard to build with our own families and friends.

The meeting lasted close to two hours, way over schedule for me. I left departing with an uneasy feeling. Despite the worsening economic times approaching, Israel (nor other countries for that matter) cannot afford to ignore these special kids.

The Free Gaza Movement is scheduled to send a second boat to Gaza containing containing minimal medical resources and several well known international personalities. To what level will this further the issue of human rights in the Palestinian territories?

1) The Palestinian-based Independent Commission for Human Rights noted in its September report that conditions had seriously declined in the territories:

  • 38 citizens lost their lives needlessly, including 6 in acts of revenge. Details are provided of the incidents.
  • Torture – both in Gaza and in the West Bank – continues by local security services, and in breach of the Penal Code.
  • Lawful demonstration is difficult….and so the list goes on. 

2) Gilad Schalit, an Israeli corporal kidnapped by Hamas, has yet to receive a single Red Cross visit in over 800 days of captivity. This is in stark contrast to each and every one of the very many Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons.

3) Tunnel smuggling continues, as reported by several elements of the western media. There is little protection for the under-age children building the tracks. There is heavy emphasis of devoting resources to the imports of drugs and armaments.

It is to be hoped that the “boat people” will highlight these stories when they docked. The reality will probably be otherwise. Is this Gaza movement sincerely interested in a true peace for the Middle East or a one-sided sectarian solution?

I was born and bred in London. I love my English tea. And I thoroughly enjoy living in Israel.

So when I heard that Israel’s President, Shimmy Peres, is off to have to tea with her majesty, Lizzie to you and I, – well, I had to smile. It turns out that he is to be awarded an honoury knighthood by ma’am next month.

Peres remains a controversial figure in Israel, but he represents the country well overseas. The ceremony is a thumbs up to Israel, celebrating its 60th year of independence.

Ironically, despite contrary upbringings, the monarch and the President share a lot in common. They are way past the 80 years old mark yet both still lead full public roles. They are possibly the two most travelled and well known leaders on the world stage. Behind the scenes, they have secured significant and continuous orders for each country’s respective defence contractors. They have an ability and the influence to get things done without fuss or noise.

Peres has a full itinerary; meeting politicians, speaking at Westminster, a trip to Oxford university. If he has a moment on his return, maybe he can come over to my humble abode and we can chat about the trip over some cucumber sandwiches……and the it will finally be the time for her majesty to visit Israel and show her shoulders here.

Figures released yesterday indicate that Israel’s economy will grow by 4.5% in 2008 (5.4% in 2007). And despite the “r” word – recession – increasingly mentioned by international figures, Israel is not showing signs of dipping into negative growth for 2009.

Israel has its forecasters of doom. And Israel’s 30% growth over 6 or so years has been linked in many ways to inward foreign investment and exports, which will both slow in 2009.

For the moment, there is much anecdotal evidence that the crunch has yet to come. A venture capital fund, Genesis, has raised US$100m for a new round of investment. I am aware of at least 2 Israeli start ups that intend to secure external investment in the next few weeks, and I hope to report on those stories in due course.

4 major employers, including Coca Cola (Israel) and Osem, have announced publicly that they have no plans for lay offs.

I am personally involved in an exciting new conference, aimed to introduce key Israeli figures in export sales, marcom and biz dev to new elements in marketing techniques. Delegates from some of Israel’s key high tech giants, including Sandisk, Comverse and ECTel, will be present at this central business event in Jerusalem.

Slow down or recession, the best way to tackle them is to generate new activity. That is what citizens are acting on. It is time for the government to follow.

Israel has welcomed in the Jewish New Year. The Ramadan season is well behind us. Thousands of Christian pilgrims are returning home after celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. The country is returning to its usual rushed normality, but what does it find itself?

I present here 3 comments on current society; 2 not so positive and one very encouraging.

1) A recent OECD report notes that for the years 2004 – 2006, Israel has one of the highest poverty rates in the West. 24.5%. For those who denounce Israel because of the poverty of the Palestinians, these stats must come as a complete surprise.

Over a quarter are pensioners. However, 34% of children are in these figures, and this is the core issue. the country has two blocks of very large families; the Arabs and ultra-orthodox. In both cases, it is rare for the mother to work. Both benefit from large state payouts. And the result is the disasterous stats as shown here.

2) In startling contrast, a report from the UN reveals that Israel has one of the largest gaps in wages in the world. In other words, the difference in earnings between the top and bottom percentiles are highly exaggerated.

3) If the above figures point to a national divide, it is encouraging to read about a positive trend in the army. It appears that nearly half of all graduates of the officer’s course now come from the religious community. Up to a decade ago, such a high number would have been unthinkable.

It is even more encouraging when you consider how disappointed, if not disgusted, this part of the population has been with the Israeli government’s policy towards disengagement from Gaza and other similar issues. A small section of leading rabbis have even called for soldiers to boycott specific orders. 

It is the new generation, which is responding to the challenges by ensuring that they are a part of the people and not separate from the rest. It is this type of nationbuilding which so many of Israel’s political and economic leaders have been lacking in recent decades.

As an example of one such family, I refer you to https://www.israelisoldiersmother.blogspot.com

Take a world credit crunch. Add in the local holiday season. Mix in a relatively high rate of interest. And what would you expect the Tel Aviv stock market to move?

Well, you are unlikely to expect it to jump 5%, which is exactly what it did today, Sunday.

The reasons are not clear. it has emerged that the pension funds are actively buying. And again, I stress that the fundamentals of the economy are sound – eg, unemployment has yet to rise. There is a tourist boom, which is likely to continue into 2009.

I have spent the past few days in shopping malls with my kids. Parking was a problem, as people flocked to empty their wallets in the shops. Yesterday, we went touring in the lower Galilee region, visiting a herbs and spices centre. We left at nightfall and the crowds were still flocking in.

Yes, the government has revised downwards its growth forecast for 2009. And “Israel is likely to face a credit crunch in 2009,” a senior regulator predicts, as reported in Globes newspaper.

The truth is that so far Israel is coping well. The authorities have reacted calmly and solidly. The internal economy is operating solidly. The country is prepared to face any winter storms, even if they are not just full of pretty white snows.

This week I wrote about my eldest son, David, acting as steward for Christians and others, parading through Jerusalem.

That same night, Adina, 2 years his junior, came home at the end of a course with Magen David Adom (MDA), the Israeli ambulance service. She has just been approved as a volunteer and she is thrilled.

Adina loves helping people. She relates that almost the first item they learnt on the course was that they must, by law, give aid to anyone, regardless of race, religion or colour. If you were to go into any Israeli hospital ward, you will find openly, peoples of all religions on both sides of the treatment areas. It is not just law, but a natural way of life for the country.

Our family knows several adults who volunteer for ambulance duty with the MDA. They tell us with some regret how their roles are now limited when they are called to go to Arab villages. The violence in recent years has forced them to wait for an army escort, before they can cary out their job. In fact last month, for the first time in years, an ambulance was able to enter Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority’s centre, in order to save a 6 month old baby. 

Gaza too benefits from this dedication. Since January 2006, there have been at least 20 occasions, where Palestinians have used medical stories as a cover to launch terror attacks. In 2006, 4,932 Palestinian patients received special treatment in Israel. That figure will double by the end of this year.

I guess true peace will be obtained not just when Gaza has better medical facacilities, but that these are available to those of a different background and religious history.

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