Cry Baby Cry

Now would be a great time for Israel to declare peace with the Palestinians. And a good enough time as any for Palestinians to declare statehood.

So I’ll do my part: “Peace with the Palestinians.” This does not change anything. As if extending a settlement freeze by two-months would ensure peace in the region. What would Fatah do with two-months? How about ten months? Time enough to plant more olive trees? Print more flags? Jews started construction on 600 new homes in the West Bank since the moratorium was jettisoned last month (with the help of Palestinian workers, ignoring the PA’s boycott). That is Jewish integrity.

Nevertheless, PA PM Salam Fayyad is headstrong. He sees Jewish integrity and it sparks a flame on his tongue; his game of semantics is putting words in the world’s mouth. He said:

“The deadline is next summer, when the Israeli occupation of the West Bank must end…In 2011, we will celebrate 66 years of the United Nations and the United Nations will celebrate the birth of our nation.”

He said that Palestinians

“need to build national institutions in the West Bank and prepare for an independent Palestinian state…The people of Gaza must be involved in our national project…There are gaps between us, it’s true, but the real gap is the wall that closes off the Strip. Next week, I will try to enter Gaza.”

He may enter Gaza; it will not protect Palestinians under Fatah from Hamas. It would not stop the flow of Iranian military-grade armaments from Nigeria to Hamas in Gaza. Or any similar activity.
Fayyad said that he will give Israel “one more year of grace…but these colonies can no longer be there. They are illegal everywhere; here and Jerusalem…If it is true that Israel is interested in peace, it must block the settlers.”

If it is true that the Palestinians want peace they will make more of an effort to condemn Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. They will see Jewish integrity and it will inspire them. Thomas Friedman recently said on an interview with Channel 2 in Israel something like: Netanyahu expects the PA to learn the words to “HaTikvah” in perfect Yiddish. Well, Mr. Friedman, what would be wrong with that?

Someone said recently that Israel views UN advice, such as extending the moratorium as mere recommendations. Are they, in actuality, anything but mere recommendations? And ones which show a lack of understanding and empathy for Zionism at that!

The best thing Israel can do for the Palestinians, at this point, is to set an example by its ingenuity and integrity. When the Palestinians learn these positive traits, they will see progress towards real statehood. Until then, Fayyad is a crybaby.

See you in 2011…

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Israeli Economic Shift: Less Start-Ups, Bigger Investments (Globes™ top 10)

New Motorola building in the Airport City industrial complex. The new shopping complex which opened a year ago is bringing new life to this large office and warehouse complex. / © 2010

Israel’s economy is going through a tectonic shift. Small start-ups and small venture capital firms are disappearing. Big start-ups (US$ 10 million) and big venture firms are holding on. Darwinian survival of the fittest is hitting hard the Israeli start-up world, the lucky few survive, but many are dead or dying. In a recent article picking the top ten start-ups The Globes™ newspaper picked the year’s most promising candidates. This is their sixth year of picking the top 10 start-ups and their past record is pretty good. The shift from many small start-ups to few big ones is driven by outside factors. Mostly the collapse of the American venture capital industry which brought a sharp drop in technology investments. As the old saying goes: “when the American venture capital industry catches a cold, Israeli start-ups catches pneumonia”. Most of Israel’s smaller venture capital firms have closed in the last four years. Investments in small start-ups has dropped to a trickle.

The Globes™ 2010 ten most promising start-ups*:

Rank Company CEO Funding [US$]
1 Provigent Dan Charash 55
2 Prime Sense Inon Beracha 29.4
3 WIX Avishai Abrahami 20
4 Waze Noam Baradin 12
5 Panaya Yosi Cohen 22
6 Solar Edge Guy Sela 60
7 Broad Light Raanan Gewirtzman 30
8 Work Light Shahar Kaminitz 17
9 Life Bond Ishay Attar 9.5
10 Aero Scout Yuval Bar-Gil 70

* from printed Globes article, 25-25 October, 2010

As an Israeli with start-up experience the large investment level is music to my ears. Experience has shown how crucial a strong investor base and larger investments help to keeping a start-up going. Start-up companies succeed not just because of innovation or technology, sometimes just time and money is needed to get a company running on it’s own or sold off. In Israel, with limited internal funding resources, we see too many companies fizzle out after the initial big investment runs out.

But as a start-up worker what is worrisome is the small number of start-up investments. As the venture capital firms invest more in less companies, less entrepreneurs are willing to start. Because the race to get funding is harder, less people even try. From experience, especially in Israel, we know that start-up success is also dependent on the number of tries. More start-ups try to get going, more will succeed. So the sharp fall in the number of start-ups the last two years is a big concern. There have been attempts by the government to help seed start-up projects. Programs to help entrepreneurs build prototype products and write a well formed business plan. But these programs have not taken into account the fundamental change in investor preference from many small start-ups to a few big ones.

It is hard to predict where the world of investment and entrepreneurship will take us. In Israel, where we nurtured an industry of building technology companies and selling them to others, the changes recently are hard to digest. Technology workers are not fully utilized, professional services are idle and the financial world supporting them is still waiting for a “comeback to the good old days”. Like previous changes, something will happen, maybe not what we expect. If you ask most entrepreneurs what they expected before they started, you always get an answer like: “what happened is not what I expected”. This does not seem to be something related to Israel or the personality of it’s people, it is indicative of the continuous changing world we live in. Keep your eyes open and look for new development. Here in Israel we will run and dodge with the times.

It Is Time to Stop the Sun Like In the Days of Joshua

The Israeli solar energy industry is blaming government bureaucracy for its sluggish progress.

The Arab oil nations of the world have geopolitically isolated the Jewish Country since its founding.

This is not news.

So, in the green era that we are living in, it is not that Israel’s unpopularity in the Arab world does not provide an energy incentive. It does. What’s the hold-up?

The location of the country, so near to the equator, leaves us to question why we seem to be straddling behind everyone else in solar energy usage and development.

While not necessarily strapped for natural gas, solar water heaters on homes and buildings account for roughly 3% of Israel’s energy demands. That’s just not enough if we are in a race with North America and Europe (and not enough to bring down the formidable gas price).

“Solar for Israel is a survival tactic,”

Claims Karin Kloosterman of Green Prophet, but

“Consumers don’t have the confidence to buy into the idea. I’ve read reports that the Israeli government is trying to back pedal on their commitments and I’m not surprised. Bureaucracy in Israel is a nightmare.”

Rigid disjointedness at the PUA (Public Utilities Authority) is reportedly injuring small Israeli firms: Solar power vendors in Israel still need foreign partners for most bank loans and the PUA still demands opinions of “international consultants” for much of the product development process.

Israeli firm, SBY Solutions is threatening to sue the state because the PUA eliminated a requirement that developers of high-voltage solar installations perform overseas projects at first, to obtain licensing. SBY Solutions is currently working on solar projects in Eastern Europe.

According to Neal Ungerleider of Fast Company, Israeli companies catering to small customers are having better luck. MCO Industries signed a $50m deal with the Texas-based Sun Freedom, selling them solar water heaters at $800 a pop. Negev-based, Friendly Energy signed a $23.8m deal to develop photovoltaic panels for an industrial solar farm in Italy.

As far as domestic deals go, last month, the government gave permission to The Clean Wind Farm company to erect 80 large 2.5 megawatt wind turbines. However, some are skeptical that the Jewish Country does not have sufficient wind speeds to “sustain a robust wind power industry.”

Israel’s goal is to generate 10% of electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020. Doubtless, the goal is within-reach, but will it be enough?

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Texas Instruments and Red Hat conferences in Tel Aviv

Texas Instruments’ technical conference drew 300 embedded engineers. Good news for Israelis and the company. The embedded processor (microcontroller) field is fractured with over twenty suppliers. TI is bringing their expertise in DSP to the Israeli engineering world. / © 2010

Last week Texas Instruments (TI) and Red Hat (earlier this week) held their annual conferences in Tel Aviv. Both companies announced new developments. Texas Instruments (TI) has revamped their controller and microprocessor lines. Red Hat is going to announce their Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 (RHEL6) in a few weeks. The TI conference was a relatively small meeting with about 300 attendees. TI has not been a big microprocessor and microcontroller supplier until now. The Israeli market is small but strong in embedded devices. This makes a day conference with presentation from key corporate executives a crucial market presence. The Red Hat conference was attended by 1,200 people. Matrix, Red Hat’s distributor in Israel, announced their 600th enterprise customer, which is over 50% growth the last year. Overall, Red Hat’s low price and strong support, has been successful in today’s weak IT market. Spending on IT is still low relative to the early 2000 spending rate. Red Hat competes with Microsoft selling enterprise servers to corporate customers, Fortune 1000 companies.

Tel Aviv is a good place to hold technical conferences. It is centrally located to most attendees and has plenty of hotels to accommodate a few hundred people. There are usually ten technical conferences in Tel Aviv (and the surrounding cities) each week. There is a “high season” for conferences, it starts in the fall and goes through winter. The season takes breaks during state holidays and school vacations. We just passed the Jewish high holiday season so conferences are in their peak period. Israel’s technology industry is clustered in a few locations. The biggest cluster of technology companies is around Tel Aviv, with Haifa in the north and Jerusalem to the east the other clusters. Since Israel has a few technology specialties and the technology field is small (relative to bigger countries), in one conference a company can bring a focused audience and cover the whole country. This enables a company to discover the state of the market in one day, connect with engineers and IT managers and give their story directly to real users and managers. Israel is especially a good place to test a new product introductions, new business models or see how the market will respond to new technologies. The Israeli market is sophisticated, there are good potential customers and geographically Israel is close to Europe and middle eastern markets. Besides this, Europeans love to come to Tel Aviv in winter. The fall is also a great time to come, temperatures are not too hot, yet you can walk around with a short sleeve shirt or a suite and tie. Add to a visit here all the benefits of a medium size metropolitan city, modeled after European and American ones, and you have a perfect (technology) combination. Come and see Tel Aviv’s technology live and in person, in fall or winter.

One unique aspect of Israel’s technology world is its technical depth. In the Red Hat conference, a presenter from IBM gave a talk on the state of IT business today and shifting trends IBM sees (Web2.0, mobile communication.) The talk was wonderful but did not hit the mark. IBM is a big company and has a wide range of audiences. A talk about the general state of the IT technology today can be targeted at executives, both government and private industry, or can be more technical and targeted at key technology decision makers. The IBM talk had general technology trends but not enough for technical decision makers. This seems to happen more here in Israel than in other places. The country’s small scale brings into one place both the high level executives all the way to the operational IT managers. This is something foreign speakers need to take into account. It is also something that Israeli organizers need to coach foreign speakers, if they are going to give relevant and interesting talks.

Palestinian islamic Jihad Joins Forces With al Qaeda

WikiLeaks recently revealed that “Iran developed camera-equipped suicide vests for al Qaeda’s attacks on US troops under the instruction of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Center in Tehran.”

Now Islamic Jihad’s “Jerusalem Brigades” in the Gaza Strip have been equipped with the same SVIED (Suicide Vest Improvised Explosive Devices) and have transferred some to al Qaeda cells in the territory.

The suicide vest is fitted with miniature cameras enabling the bomber to monitor and relay images of an on-coming attack before it reaches target. This enables the bomber to stay in touch with his command every step of the way and to obtain images of the environment he is entering.

Reportedly, Iranian proxy, Islamic Jihad which has now entered a de facto fraternity with Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda are a “thorn in the sides of the Hamas rulers.”

“Jihad commanders are training the al Qaeda squads in the use of the novel suicide weapon of exactly the same type as Iran gave al Qaeda in Iraq and are joining them for missions against Israeli targets across the Gaza border.”
Hamas has warned the Jerusalem Brigades to cease cooperation with al Qaeda in the Gaza Strip or else their training facilities and weapons caches will be destroyed.
The Islamic Jihad sent back a two-arm reply:
* Any members carrying out attacks on Israel by firing rockets, planting bombs or using explosive vests without explicit instructions from their commanders will be expelled from the Islamic Jihad and ostracized.
*Jihad leaders are ready for dialogue with Hamas, provided that its fighters are attached to the Hamas special force known to the IDF as the “Hamas Covert Unit,” which was recently established to keep random missile fire against Israel in check.

Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami al-Filastini, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was founded in 1979 by Fathi Shaqaqi and other radical Palestinian students in Egypt who split from the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip whom they saw as too moderate. The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran influenced Shaqaqi, who believed the liberation of Palestine would unite the Arab and Muslim world into a single great Islamic state. Today they still stand steadfast in their objective to create a state by annihilating Israel.

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A Conversation with Fatima

Reporting from Ramat Gan, Israel

As I’m sure most of the world has heard, the Israeli cabinet approved a proposal requiring new immigrants to pledge loyalty to the “Jewish and democratic” state on October 10. The bill was greeted by hot and cold receptions from critics in the international community. The bill, which still faces a wider parliamentary vote, passed initially by a 22-8 margin – finding strong domestic opposition from the Labor Party and Israeli Arabs.

Perhaps I am naive, but I was a little chagrined by the amount of negative hoopla the news caused; I always saw Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy — this is what I love about little Israel. But in the unseasonably hot weather and proverbial prickly atmosphere, one should prepare them self to never feel too surprised in this land of mystery.

Fatima, an 18-year-old student of linguistics and English literature at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan said, “I don’t think it makes any change. Everyone here is supposed to say that they swear to the country.” Fatima, donning a lime green hijab and traditional silk black dress spoke over the mellow hum of copy machines amid an ethnically mixed handful of college students. “I don’t know what he [PM Netanyahu] said and what he meant – I don’t know his aim.” She stressed that the facts for her are freely explained on her Facebook page, she is a proud-Palestinian.

“The Palestinians have long rejected that, [the Jewishness of Israel]saying Israel may use it as a pretext to deny Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war that created Israel the right to return to their former homes.” wrote Vita Bekker of The National. However, chief of the Fatah-ruling PA, Mahmoud Abbas claimed that Arabs in the “occupied territories” had already done that during the 1993 Oslo Accords. Recent research shows, the ratio of Palestinians in the territories who object to Israel being a Jewish state and those who don’t is almost cut in half – just slightly a larger percent for the latter.

But the law really applies to those who are thinking of immigrating to Israel. Andrea, 40, is a non-Jewish American woman married to an Israeli. She also studies at the university, of which she complains the tuition is too high. “I won’t make Aliyah if I have to swear to a Jewish country.” The two had to marry outside the country, “A rabbi would not recognize our marriage,” she said, “I feel my husband” placed in a “50% tax bracket” and a career military officer for fourteen years “is being discriminated against.”

Then, a week ago, Israeli PM Netanyahu instructed Justice Minister, Ya’akov Ne’eman to prepare a draft bill that would also require Jews to pledge allegiance to Israel “as a Jewish and democratic state”.

Standing outside the university synagogue, without a yamulke on his head, Rotem Nisan, a 25 year-old geography student at the same university as Fatima said, “This is a country of Jews. I have no problem with Muslims and Christians, but if you want residence and an ID, you must be Jewish. To tourists, the country is open.”

The day after we chatted in the Xerox room near the English language building at Bar Ilan University, Fatima sent me a message on Facebook; she had lots more to say:

“dear Scott,

I just read your article. You have such a nice way in writing. But when I said “I don’t know what he [PM Netanyahu] said and what he meant – I don’t know his aim.” I looked like a very unconscious girl which I am not. I don’t know if this is the right word but when I heard about this law I kinda felt a way of harassment from the government.. that’s why I said I don’t know his aim. If it comes to me, I would highly reject this law because it really against our own believes and thought. Who said that if I want to live in a country i should admit its nationality? so what? go to Canada and see how people leave peacefully and leaving all this political issue behind them, because they want real peace and they are not looking for any excuses to kick their non-Canadian out.”

For an 18-year-old in this country, Fatima’s English is quite good, perhaps better than the average Jewish Israeli 18-year-old. But the average Jewish Israeli 18-year-old would not be studying in the university at the age of 18. They would be serving in the army or doing another form of community service. The message continued:

“I live in Israel, which is for me and for every Palestinian , occupied Palestine, and I will never ever pledge loyalty to this country because it doesn’t reflect me.. Moreover, they should not forget that I was born here, it means that i’m a resident who gets all my absolute rights! and one of my rights in a “democratic country” is my freedom of speech and thinking. How
come they force me to do something I don’t believe in, in a democratic country!?”

In appreciation for giving her honest opinion and feeling so open with me, I responded to Fatima:

Israel is still a new country. It is a democracy and I think it will always stay that way. Other places in the world aren’t the same, like the Islamic Republic of Iran or occupied Lebanon.

But Canada and the United States are democracies which were founded by French, English, German, Dutch and colonizers from elsewhere – and only after much of the native population was displaced, sold off to slavery and killed. You should never feel unsafe or nervous because of your ethnicity. Hopefully we can be friends. And if we all become friends: Jews, Muslims and Christians, then G-D willing there will be peace.

And enjoy reading Beowulf!

By Scott Krane

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TJC’s The Salon Ep. 08 Promo Jewish women discuss Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Tea Party, the controversy over same-sex marriage announcements in Jewish publications, $#*& our moms say, and more! This episode features reporter Irin Carmon, Moment Magazine editor & publisher Nadine Epstein, and JTS professor Dr. Carol Ingall, editor of “The Women Who Reconstructed American Judaism.” Hosted by Forward editor Jane Eisner, with’s Rachel Sklar.

Update on Iben Gvirol and The Coffee Bean Closure

At ”The Gregg Cafe” in Dizengoff center, the manager’s dog has it’s own ”personal” table. Not a common and acceptable practice, it is still telling of the informal feel of Israeli cafes. Not so with ”The Coffee Bean” and regular laptop workers in 2009 / © 2010

About a year ago bloggers in Israel made some noise about working in cafes. They were grumbling about cafes being hostile toward people who sat and worked using laptops. Some cafes at the time did not offer free WiFi or did not have AC plugs to connect laptops power supplies. Tel Avivians love their cafes and to some it is their living room and office apartment extensions. A virtual (or actually real?) home-office away from home. In central Tel Aviv, where apartment prices are beyond belief, many people live in tiny apartments. Some work from home, that means sometimes working from the local cafe when they meet customers or clients. The American coffee chain “ The Coffee Bean (& Tea Leaf)” had a nice big cafe on Iben Gvirol in front of Gan Ha’ir commercial complex. I wrote about The Coffee Bean’s up and down policy toward laptop users. Around 2008 the Israeli high-tech sector collapsed. No new investment in start-ups caused companies to lay off thousands of workers. These were software engineers and professional support workers (salesman and marketers, human resource, administrators) as well as related professionals.

The Coffee Bean first went all out to accommodate laptop toting customers. Besides the free WiFi connection, they also offered AC plugs. At one time they were going to install a printer which you could use for a small fee. But somewhere around 2009 all this stopped. Apparently a few customers made The Coffee Bean their permanent office away from home. One guy actually brought in a keyboard and even a printed at one time. Another was a permanent fixture to such a point where he had “his own” table. While cafes are usually an informal place to go, there are limits, especially in Tel Aviv. For the most part people are well dressed and well behaved. Once in a while you get an excited loud customer, but that evokes a few stares from adjacent tables and the peace and calm is restored. Some cafes have a quiet feel, here is a place to catch a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes reading. For the most part, people do not come to cafes to talk on the phone. If you are having a meeting, it is usually between two to four people and is quiet. If you are not doing it all the time and are not hogging a table beyond the time that makes sense, everything is fine.

I am saddened to see The Coffee Bean gone. Hopefully another coffee chain will take over the place and keep the large space open as it was before. But in reality, this section of Iben Gvirol does not need another cafe. There are plenty of them just a few steps away. Life goes on as normal, a few changes here and there. Maybe this is a good lesson in commerce and change. Technology is going to change our lives no matter what we do. So changes are going to ripple into the way we work and live. Some people will benefit some will suffer. Laptops, WiFi, Netbooks and now tablet computers are making our office work portable. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to catch up with our portable offices. Is this happening in your city? What is it like in the US and Europe? It will be interesting to compare business and consumer reactions.