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.

Menachem Meir is a Jerusalem academic. Successful and a careful observer of the Jewish faith, he is blessed with a wonderful wife, children and a smiling group of grandchildren. Around 1942, he was separated from his elder brother Fred in France. The younger sibling eventually made his way to the States, forgot his German, abondoned the family name and and has seen the next two generations happily embrace Christianity.

Few have the right to judge either; how they have survived and why they lost touch with each other. Even fewer have managed to explain the Holocaust – how and why it happened.

I was honoured to attend a private showing of an international film, depicting the childhood, separation, and the families of Fred and Menachem. The session took place yesterday, less than a week before the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calender. Yom Kippur, as it is known in Hebrew, features a 25 hour fast, where Jews come together asking for forgiveness and offering repentence.

In this light, viewing the film suddenly became amazingly pertinent.

1) The Meir family was originally transported in 1940 from Germany. In charge of the operation was a nazi officer called Hopp. He was a local commander. His son is associated with a many charities and successful businesses in Germany. Inteviewed on camera, he repudiated the actions of his father, publicly offering to fund part of the film and a ceremony, which remembered the horrific deportation.

2) Fred had spent decades running from his past. On camera, he was clearly the more openly moved of the two, when handling the horrors of yesteryear. His parents had asked him to look after Menachem, who had refused to join him in America. Were his tears partially a sign of relief that Menachem had lived and confirmed the family’s honour? Waas this guilt being removed?

3) Menachem found the old family home. He explained to the current inhabitants why they had come to visit, accompanied by a camera crew. Shocked and surprised, the occupants offered no apology and no regret. The brothers left the scene with evident disappointment if not disgust.

4) In contrast, Menachem was reaquainted with a former school friend. The gentleman explained how he had tried to help them with their clothes on the day of the deportation. He bore a look that signified relief – as if to say, the reunion signified a form of individual repent after 65 years. In return, the brothers showed hope and forgiveness

And there was one further point for the Israeli; religious or not, elderly or at school, a plumber or an academic. Menachem was at home in Israel. For all of the countries problems, the 3 generations were safe. His non-practicising relatives from America noted after a family meeting in Germany – by definition, it was not a reunion – that Israel provided true bonds for its citizens. It is place with roots and which can grow further.

Fred has recently retired to Florida. Clearly beautiful and idyllic, he was asked if this was his home. He could not give an affirmative answer.

It is an open fact that the Middle East is chronically short of water. If there are reserves of this “liquid gold”, they are hidden in remote areas of Turkey.

Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. (Remember that under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel is obliged to supply detailed amounts of water upto the entrance to Palestinian towns and cities).

So what can be done? I spoke to one israeli team that can take water out of the atmosphere in commercial quantities for on-site agricultural use. Another approach is to conserve water use. Israel has much to do here, especially amongst few maintenance.

Another aspect demanding immediate attention is untreated sewage, seaping off into streams and rivers. The estimate for 2007 was that 178km of untreated muck had found its way into these open water flows, which form the basis for drinking water supplies in many Palestinian regions. Equally critical was the misuse of groundwaters for agriculture, as opposed to drinking. Again, it is the citizen who suffers as the Palestinian Authority is only capable of mismanegemnt.

With a degree of political irony, it appears that the two populations are tied together…by a series of underground aquifiers. No amount of rhetoric or violence can change that. If Hamas and Fatah do not start cooperating with the Israeli authorities – the ones with the technology, resources the will and  the finances – then both sets of populations are going to be suffering even further, and in their own kitchens.

Several people have asked me what I meant by the Paul McCartney “kosher certifcate”.

It is not just that Macca’s visit wll encourage other artists to come and be seen in Israel.

Reports of his concert were found on the front pages of leading newspapers in the UK, America, Australia and probably elsewhere. That is massive positive PR that Israel has not been able to generate during all the rest of the celebrations for its 60 years of independence.

If if that is not good enough, take my wife’s anecdotes. She convinced her multinational company to hold its UK conference one day early, so that she could return in time for the concert. And following the international press coverage of the performance, her colleagues have sent her e-mails of delight as they were able to “take part” in the festivites from around the globe.

In this context, who cares if Macca visited a school in Bethlehem (where he had to avoid local protests)? Who cares if he did not visit Jerusalem? A great concert for Israelis. A superb event for Israel.

Thursday, 25th 2008 will remain a special day in my life. After blah blah years and decades, I had an opportunity to fulfill a life-long dream. I saw Paul McCartney, live, on stage, singing.

Sure, I was so far back that he was only a dot on the eye. Sure, he was missing three other members of the Fab 4. And, he was past 64. It did not matter for one second of my 2 hour and 20 minute joy ride.

The press had made much that the Beatles had been banned from appearing in Israel way back in 1965. Was the cancellation due to a clash between two local impressarios? Did the government of the day really believe that the young crooners would corrupt the youth? Or was it that the country was so strapped for foreign currency reserves and could not afford the entertainment, that the cancellation was based on a made up excuse?

More relevant is what this concert means to Israel today? For me this is simple: For all Macca’s visit to Bethlehem and his wishing the audience “Ramadan Karim”, he gave Israel what it has longed for – a kosher certificate.

He is so big that no longer can any artist find an excuse not to visit. Finally and utterly – Israel is on the map in the world of music and live concerts. The country offers performers first class facilities. In return, they should be here to honour their fans.

One irony: Maca constantly used the theme of giving peace a chance. great, the region needs it. And yet, for me the best song of the night was “Live And Let Die” withe explosive guitar solos and effects. Smile; it’s the Middle East.

I was told of a group of Israelis, who underwent a psychometric test for junior management positions in the local civil service. They were examined on their Hebrew, given an assignemnt in time management, asked to identify the wrong picture in a sequence, and more.

At the end, one of the participants asked if the senior managers had undertaken such a test. Others laughed, but there was clearly more than a tinge of poignancy in the question.

Personally, I don’t see why drawing a tree with roots or a family with people of correct proportionate sizes means that you are capable to carry out satisfactorily an administrative task. But the whole exercise got me thinking.

Let’s take all these high flying bank execs and sales people around the word. Many have been earning fat bonuses for years on what have proved to be financially unsecure policies. They frequently obtained their position by going to the right school, knowing the correct person, or just through the gift of the gab.

Perhaps a better way to assess human potential is to make them draw pictures and analyse simplified test scenarios. It might save the world from a world recession.

Lehman Brothers has disappeared. Halifax in the UK was sold overnight. And in Israel?

The shops are full, as people prepare for the Jewish New Year or the end of Ramadan. Banks are still rolling in the profits. Unemployment is at a record low.

And high tech? Well I can report form own perspective. I have one client, where contracts are being drawn up re a UK investor. Another has received 2 proposals from mainland Europe.

These are not freak incidences. A colleagues told me today that an investor, who last week informed him that a project looked interesting, is about to pop over to Israel to complete the deal. And so it goes on.

I find 2 lessons here:

a) The collapse on Wall Street and elsewhere was sparked by stupidities in the mortgage market in one country (and rising commodity prices). That does not mean all global economies are rotten.

b) The Israeli market has undergone some harsh restructuring since the previous high tech dive in  1999. It will not escape unscathed. However, it still has what to offer the outside world, especially in investment opportunities. Time for a visit.

I have just heard a fascinating approach to helping women enter the labour market in Israel.

What’s so special about that? Ultra-orthodox or Haredi women have often been held back from working. Their culture and society effectively “keep them in the kitchen and nurseries” even when they have solid qualifications. Other factors, such as not working directly with men or high maternity levels, have kept them unemployed.

Along comes Ms Libie Affen. A feminist? I am not so sure. Libie is a Haredi lady with a masters degree and the COO of Matrix, a leading Israeli high tech company. With a spin off from matrix, she has established a profitable company to employ Haredi es, to give them the conditions they require, and to produce quality output as demanded by Fortune 500 companies.

She currently employs 450 ladies, most of them software engineers or equivalent. One of the conditions is that they are provided rivate transport to and from the client. This allows them to deal with children int he evening and protect their modesty demands.

Now here’s the real “wow” factor. Libie has been asked to explain this model to a female cooperative in Detroit. And to take this one step further, the Palestinian Authority has also been in contact.

Why did I write this? Did you realise that Israel is about to swear in a female Prime Minister. She will sit along side the female head of the Supreme Court and Madam Speaker of the Kenesset.

A few weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion on the cleantech industry in Israel. Fascinating stuff. For example, it turns out that this tiny mass in the Middle East leads the world in solar tech. 

And that is not all. We grow algae in the dessert and send the production abroad. Shai Agassi’s non-fossel powered car is developed in Israel. Irrigaion techniques have moved far forward form computer linked sprinklers.

I was recently commissioned to investigate some greentech opportunities for a UK based investment group. I thought that I had seen eveything, but there was more to come.

I have met a company generating commercial power for communities out of manure and sewage. Another corporation is creating cooling systems out of crystals. And a third group has designed a housing complex where the power used is self-generated amongst the dwelling units.

These companies are earnestly seeking sales streams abroad, and they deserve all the success they can receive.

For the past year, I have been a member of the board the Israel-Britain Chamber of Commerce. The organisation was recently involved in coordinating the visit of the British Minister of Trade, Lord Digby Jones.

Now get hold of this:  “Over the past decade, bilateral trade has grown by 40 per cent and is now worth over £2.3 billion pounds. …..  more than 250 Israeli companies now located in the UK…. and 47 Israeli companies listed on London stock exchanges, with 41 having joined in the last three years.”
Lord Jones said his government organisation UK Trade & Investment, which is responsible for promoting the UK international business, is committed to securing another 25 more inward investment projects from Israel by 2010.

What an opportunity for Israeli companies. The Brits are actually giving a direct entry int the vast network of European trading relationships. Just hop on board.

Over the past decade Israel has received a lousy press abroad on the subject of human rights. Strange that for a country which has full freedom of worship, has non-Jews in its Parliament representating several political parties, and has a myriad of national papers.

By way of comparison, yesterday I received a report from the Ramallah-based Independent Commission for Human Rights. Every month they highlight abuses by Palestinian officials in Gaza and the West Bank. Using names, dates, places, in August 2008 alone, they refer to: –

    • 1 female citizen who died through so-called “honour crimes”
    • 8 citizens were reported to have been killed in family fights and acts of revenge
    • 15 complaints from citizens alleging that they were subjected to torture while they were being detained or interrogated. In the Gaza Strip, ICHR received 7 grievances from citizens, claiming that they were subjected to torture.
    • Attacks on charitable houses and orphanages
    • Interference with the legal system
    • Blocking distribution of daily newspapers

  • ~

It is said that the Israeli economy has grown by over 30% in 5 years, despite wars and the Intifada. The Palestinian economy is just the opposite.

The best proof for this came from Nigel Roberts, a senior offical at the World Bank. He has noted that Palestinians receive the highest level of aid per capita in the world, but implies that little seems to come of it.

And now along comes a report from Israel’s Civil Administration, responsible for the social and economic welfare of the West Bank. It starts by saying that as a result of less violence in the region, over 100 roadblocks have been removed. And thus?

Unemployment is dropping fast, although still too high at 19%. Tourism in places like Bethlehem has nearly doubled upto June 2008. Agricultural exports to Israel are up 25%, even after a disasterous weather spell. And so on.

This all generates real income, which assumedly must filter to the average man in the street. This will weaken the dependence on aid. And it was this aid, which seemed to feed only the violence and thus, ironically, into stabilising previous poverty levels.

The fallout of the mortgage crisis in America and the rise in commodity prices have begun to affect the Israeli economy, but to waht extent?

For the past 5 – 6 years, the stats show an economy that has grown by over 30%. No wonder the OECD wants Israel as a member. As for 2008, only last week, unemployment fell to another low of 5.9%. Time lag until it rises back up? Maybe, but all the predictions still say growth this year will round off at about 4%.

Now compare that to other countries.

Evidently, there are some underlying strengths within the Israeli financial scene that over weigh short term international economic changes. I was talking last week to a senior planner in the Ministry of Trade. Currently, the forecast for 2009 is growth around the 3.5% mark, well beyond almost all of Israel’s competitors.

I have spent 3 days, introducing a group of savvy German investment officers to the wonders of Israel. These guys travel extensively. They were supported to 2 class-acts of IT experts. And yet……

First, they were introduced to the wonders of the Investment Promotion Authority. It would be unwise to dismiss this team as just another set of boring civil servants. In a dry but professional manner, they made the point that Israel, specifically Jerusalem, has much to offer a new r&d centre. Consider Intel with its massive plant in the north of the city – they American giant has already sank US$5.75 billion int Israel.

Then we met with the biz dev group of Ernst & Young in Israel. They linked us up with a series of private seed investors. The range was clearly beyond anything known or anticipated by our visitors.

Next steps? The Germans had wanted to take the development process over to Europe. They now realise that this would force them to abandon the commercial and techniocal expertise available in the Holy land.

I was recently chatting to a business coach in Israel. I was surprised to see that when it came to time management, most of his clients are senior managers, even CEOs.


We are talking about people with experience, at the peak of their careers .  Either they have set up the company or they have risen through the ranks, ending up at the top of the tree. So you would expect them to be able to manage their time and know how to run a company efficiently.


Ask yourself candidly: Are you really in control of your time? In the average day, how many hours are you forced to allocate to putting out fires rather than creating new opportunities. What proportion of time is given over to matching the demands of the CEO, so that we forget why we came to work?


Here are three simple tips, which will are designed to improve your use of time.

1)      Don’t spend the first few minutes of the day checking your diary, sorting out what you need to do. Empirically this is considered the most productive part of many people’s day. That task should have been completed at the end of the previous day.

2)      When you allocate tasks for specific days, assign them a period of time, just as if they are an appointment. This allows you to visualise clearly exactly how much time you have for other tasks and so called emergencies.

3)      Think in advance who is going to demand something from you and preempt the issue.


And here’s the catch, as the coach commented back to me. Most of us know about these tips. What we refuse to recognize is that we do not act on them. And what many are afraid to ask is “why” – what’s stopping us carrying out the obvious.


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