Israeli Legal Structure: Uphold Laws of the Land: Ottoman & British Legacy

Shlomo Cramer in the uniform of British police 1938. Israelis served in British police and armies during World War II in the hope of stopping the German forces
I am still thinking about how to explain to the average Libyan citizen daily democratic life.  US president Obama said recently “Democracy does not end with free elections”. That might seem like an obvious statement, yet in many places this idea is not completely clear. How do you actually explain democracy? Israel is probably one of the best examples of democratic success. A country started completely unplanned by a few immigrants from around the world, mostly from non-democratic countries (Russia, Yemen, Poland). Now it is one of the best examples of democratic government. Democracy in Israel is complex and sometimes not exactly what you would think (a more direct description would be “a mess” and definitely “frustrating”). Still, Israeli democracy is free and usually fair for the average citizen. Democracy in Israel also support a strange legal system. A system made up of Jewish, Ottoman (Turkish), British and international legal roots all at once. The Israeli legal system resembles other democratic areas in the society. There is acceptance and compromise across the board. In government, business, culture, religion, economy and lifestyle, very different democratic ideas make up the landscape. People live with differences and usually try to accept them. Religious live with secular, nationalists live with free traders, business with labor. This acceptance is what makes for real democracy: living with differences and allowing others to have their own lives. Israel’s legal system is a good example of democracy in this country. 

Israel has a complex legal system structure. Roots from legal systems such as Rabbinical laws, Ottoman laws, British common / business laws and modern Israeli laws (from modern international influences) make up laws today. Together all these different laws may seem complex, but in reality they each cover a separate part in the system. Each logical and not that complicated. Family law is based on rabbinical law. This governs marriage and divorce and family related laws. Rabbinical laws are also used in permits for food sales and restaurant licenses. This originates from rabbinical Kosher food inspection practiced in Jewish communities of eastern Europe and the middle east. Rabbinic law has been practiced uninterruptedly for at least 1,000 years in Europe (some estimate 1,400 years). Since the ruling barring polygamy were established at the year 1,100, Jews have followed Rabbinical  marriage laws. To some secular Israelis Rabbinical laws seem old, irrelenat and harsh. But overall the state seems to be well respected in International legal circles when it comes to family law. Family law judges come from the community of practicing lawyers (secular) and Rabbis (religious, Orthodox). The Rabbis are trained in orthodox yeshivas and usually practice family law for years in the Jewish orthodox community. This fact alone makes many secular Israelis judgmental. There is a big divide in how Jews practice religion in Israel and secular Israelis do not understand (trust and appreciate) most orthodox Jewish community laws. 
You may be puzzled and ask what does Ottoman Empire and British Empire laws have to do in a modern Israel? Simply put, these have been “laws of the land” long before the Israeli state was founded in 1948. The Turkish ruled Israel for a long time from 1517 to 1917. They were defeated by the British in World War I. The Turks left the “Tabo” system (literally means land in Turkish): land registration system and land ownership laws. To this day, there are still land registration documents from Ottoman era. Laws on the books from the Ottomans have been translated to Hebrew and Arabic and integrated into modern Israeli legal practice. Both Jews and Muslims land purchases were registered with the ruling Turkish authorities. Their system considered fair and accurate to land owners. This part of Israeli law is also a little strange but still holds up in modern Israeli courts. The Israeli state and before that Jewish organizations tried to reform the Turkish practices. But until today, not much has been done. There are complaints from businesses and independent land owners on a few issues such as land leases. In Israel most of the land is owned by the state or the Jewish National Fund. Land is leased to individuals and businesses for 49 or 99 years. Many Europeans and Americans do not understand this arrangement. People who came from legal systems where land ownership is a fundamental right, do not understand leasing. Yet, land leasing practice by itself is not actually related to the Ottoman laws still practiced today in Israel. 
British imperial laws govern many basic business and trade practices in Israel. Corporate finance is measured and reported according to British standards (companies report “turnover” rather than “earnings and profits”). Contracts and trade agreements laws has also been mostly based on British laws. These roots help Israel integrate well with European markets (regulatory and financial). It also maes for easier mergers and acquisitions of Israeli companies  with European companies. The large number of American companies and investors seem a little confused that Israel, which has mostly done business with American companies the last three decades, uses European and especially British business standards. At times, the British business world seems downright hostile toward Israelis. Still, what has been started here during the British occupation is kept (the British ruled from 1917 to 1948). I think of the use of British standards in business as a reflection of stability and overall conservative culture in Israeli law. While some things are being updated, others stay as they were. So while Israel is a modern state in terms of government ideas and democratic rule, it’s laws go back hundreds of years with basic concepts solid in established legal systems. It also shows of the flexibility of the Israelis, adopting systems of standards where none existed before. Jews from the diaspora did not have strong legal systems for land and business. Therefore it made sense to learn and use the systems available at the time.
Overall, Israeli legal system is structured, fair and well administered. There are well defined laws and legal structures which serve both citizens and the state. Some laws going back centuries even millennium. Israeli lawyers and judges practice a mix of legal systems, all derived from other systems which governed Israel long before the state became independent. There is more to write about how the legal system is run and how the citizens of Israel deal and feel about the legal systems and the people who run them. Not always fair or legal, but always interesting.

Republic of Splintered Cedars: “The People Want To Bring Down the Regime”

Good for Lebanon. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Beirut on Sunday to protest their country’s sectarian political system.

Copping a sentiment ubiquitous now throughout the Middle East, protesters chanted, “the people want to bring down the regime!

LebanonAccording to Reuters:

“Lebanon is governed by a delicate power-sharing system to maintain the balance between the country’s many sects. It is unlike many other Arab countries where protests have been against rulers who have governed for decades.”

Actually, you’d have to say Lebanon’s government is still a work in progress. Backed by Iranian proxy, the Shia group, Hezbollah, Najib Migati has taken his place at the helm of the Cedar Republic – so we know who really wears the pants in that family.

The country suffered a 15-year civil war ending in 1990 and killing 150,000 people. Then in 2008, after Israel crushed the Lebanese infrastructure as a reaction to Hezbollah terror on the Jewish State, sectarian violence broke out anew.

The organizers of the recent protest handed out a leaflet explaining their demand “secular, civil, democratic, socially just and equal state” and calling for an increase in the minimum wage, as well for price slashes on basic goods.

As protests continue throughout the Middle East, such uprisings have unseated the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia – with Libya teetering on Civil War if Muammar el-Qhadaffi does not step down.

A few months ago, a WikiLeaks cable divulged that Lebanon defense minister gave advice to Israel back in 2008 on how it will be possible to defeat Hezbollah.

The memo quoted Elias Murr telling US officials that areas under Hezbollah control would not be defended by Lebanese forces:

“If Israel has to bomb all of these places in the Shia areas as a matter of operational concern, that is Hezbollah’s problem…”

The minister also warned that an Israeli drone on Lebanon should avoid hitting Christian areas:

“Murr told us that Israel would do well to avoid two things when it comes for Hezbollah…One, it must not touch the Blue Line or the UNSCR 1701 areas as this will keep Hezbollah out of these areas…Two, Israel cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas…”

Palestinian Unity Government

A unity government is being formed between Hamas and Fatah representatives. It is to be headed by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and will include members from both factions, as well as independents.

Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, along with a number of Hamas leaders, have acquiesced the new plans. Under the conditions for the unity government, Hamas may continue ruling in the Gaza Strip, so long as it abstains from the use of violence.

Previously, Hamas approached the offer with suspicion. One of the group’s leaders, Salah al-Bardawil said “Fayyad does not represent the Palestinian leadership” and that due to his lack of legitimacy, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority is “not authorized to speak about public affairs.

However, in recent days, the ice has begun to melt. Mahmoud a-Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza says he is open to the deal; and according to Israel Radio, Fayad says he is willing to go to Gaza to discuss further, the unity deal with Hamas. Also, Nabil Shaath, a top official in the Fatah Party, told The Associated Press that he would go to Gaza soon to negotiate with Hamas leaders to work out the terms for a unity deal.

Meanwhile, two Grad-model Katyusha rockets hit the southern Israeli town Beersheba for the first time since Operation Cast Lead. The rockets fell in a residential Beersheba neighborhood; one rocket landing in the yard of a home, causing large damage. No physical injuries were reported but five people were treated for shock.

Last Wednesday afternoon, an explosive device detonated while IDF soldiers passed near the Gaza security fence during a routine operation and a mortar shell was fired at the force. No one was injured and no damage was reported.

Along with the border skirmish, five mortar shells fired from Gaza landed in the Sedot Negev Regional Council area on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a strange flipflop for American President Obama, was instructing the U.S. representative to the United Nations to veto the Security Council resolution, last Friday, that would have condemned Israel’s West Bank settlements as illegal.

Beck Commends Orthodox Judaism

Glenn BeckOn his February 22 radio show, Mormon-convert, ex-drug-addict and media mogul, Glenn Beck, compared Reform Judaism to “radical Islam,” saying that both were more about ‘politics’; that is changing what is outside of oneself, rather than actually being about ‘religion’, changing what is inside of oneself.

Beck’s comments came one month after 400 rabbis, many of whom are affiliated with the Reform movement, paid for a full page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, denouncing what they saw as inappropriate references to the Nazi Holocaust, made by Beck, when referring to George Soros.

Beck said this:

“When you talk about rabbis, understand that most people who are not Jewish don’t understand that there are the Orthodox rabbis and then there are the Reformed (sic) rabbis. Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It’s almost like Islam – radicalized Islam – in a way to where radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics…It’s not about terror or anything else, it’s about politics, and so it becomes more about politics than it does about faith. Orthodox rabbis that is about faith. There’s not a single orthodox rabbi on this list. This is all reformed rabbis that made this list…”

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Money, Industry, Innovation: What Counts in the Israeli Economy


Lots of people have written about the “amazing Israeli economy”. Just recently the two books Start-up Nation and The Israel Test (Guilder) are examples of how Israel amazes people around the world. The reality is a little different than just simple amazement. Some things are truly amazing, and people coming to Israel the first time really see us as unique. Some are not amazing at all, but are still different. Israel, like many small countries, does a few things very well. There are great engineering companies here and some of the best international engineering teams for companies like: Intel, IBM, Motorola and Microsoft. Some things like drip irrigation and solar water heating are simple and amazing and made a huge difference in how Israelis live. But the most unique factor here is how people have focused on the economy like very few other countries. The countries who have done similar things also succeeded: Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Brazil, Chile and recently China. They achieved just as much as Israel. The one big difference between Israel and other countries is our geographic location. Some it tied to natural resources: Israel has none! People do not expect Israel, amongst so many Arab countries, to be so successful. They also do not expect a new country, with very little to start with, not even a base population. Essentially the country started out with fresh immigrants all coming from a distressed environment. European Jews came from that horrible experience in the holocaust. Middle-Eastern Jews coming from discrimination in Arab countries.

It turns out that the economy in general is probably the single most important element in Israel’s success. In the economy the most single element that has succeeded is keeping people employed. Keeping people employed means producing something. In the early days it was agriculture products with people who did not have agricultural background. Finally, the overall development of niche products, to be unique and strong in something small. This has meant doing all kind of things which sometimes go AGAINST social and government theories. In the 1970s and 1980s Israelis went into diamond polishing and established a large sector. Both private people and the state worked on building up the diamond polishing industry. Israel’s strong position ended when countries like India started polishing diamonds, especially the low cost ones which were the high volume sellers. Losing this industry created a temporary depression in the Israeli economy, but Israelis weathered the storm and moved on to other niche markets. I will go into examples in more detail in future articles.

Currently Israel has invested heavily in innovation (technology, biotechnology and services) and in international trade. Israel has gone through the Dot-Com bubble and also through a downward real-estate cycle (2005-2008). In 2006 / 2007 there was a real fear that many small Israeli manufacturers would close down due to the total meltdown of bank credit here. The government offered loan guarantees but they were tied it to companies who needed money to market or manufacture products ready to sell. The problem was, small Israeli manufacturers did not know how to market internationally. Today there is a strong effort to send Israeli managers to train in international marketing and business. Learning and working in marketing at a local level is just not enough to compete on a global scale. In addition, Israel is also expanding it’s reach globally by sending experts to new places not familiar with our fields of expertise (technology, building, finance, agriculture). In agriculture, specially in semi-arid climates, Israeli firms have developed varieties of fruits and vegetables able to grow well with less water. Today’s Israeli seed companies enable farmers in countries around the world grow better produce and lower the risk associated with drought. One thing you notice in Israel is innovation in many areas. This reflects the curiosity and energy in the Israeli culture. You don’t have to be an Intel chip designer or a Google programmer to invent something new. You can do it as an architect, a farmer, a pharmaceutical chemist and a financial analyst. The economic factor in Israel’s success is a fascinating topic. I will write more and show some examples from today’s life in future articles.

Barbara Streisand DUCK SAUCE and state of affairs

It’s almost the weekend. Actually for Israelis this is the last day of the week. So what did we have this week?
Libya is up in flames, Egypt is under new management, New Zealand had a huge earthquake, we seem to be getting some “love” in the south with the Beer Sheva rocket last night…

Have a little duck sauce and a good weekend…

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What Israelis Would Tell Arabs About Democracy: You Know Best…


What would you tell someone who just elected a democratic government? What would be the best and simplest pieces of advice? I have been thinking about this while Arab protesters (or is it revolutionaries) have been trying to remove despot rulers. Once you have a democratically elected government, how do you live like a citizen? What will make this better than a dictator? Probably every free state leader is searching for this answer. How can you teach a billion people to “just do it” democracy? Once the Arab states adopt democracy, this will be the largest change in the world’s social structure in probably 200 years, maybe ever. So while the eastern European states may think that their shift from communism to democracy was a big event, the one going on now may overshadow that wave of change.

You Know Better Than Your Government:

The one thing that you hear in Israel is criticism AND improvement on government policy. In a democracy everyone has to give his point of view. But that does not mean protesting with signs on the street, or screaming at a house of representative gathering, or complaining by mail to all kind of government clerks. Just annoying people is not useful and actually makes democracy less effective. I am talking about a useful suggestion if it is keeping the streets clean from dog poop (shit). As the problem was in Tel Aviv a few years ago. All the way to how medical service is organized. Government by the people means exactly that. Each person has to improve and contribute to their government’s operation. If you lived under a dictator for a long time, in the Arab countries case forever, than this idea is the hardest to grasp. Some requests by citizens are not going to be popular. The government is going to set rules (i.e. you have to clean up after your dog!). Then the government is going to start punishing and fining people (i.e. it will cost you $20 for every poop we find). Then the government is going to start sending out people to enforce the new regulation. Then the people are going to fight back and abuse, curse and even hit regulators that come to punish dog poop violators. You get the point. Sometimes democratic government is not good for everyone, it is suppose to be good for the majority. But the operative word here is “suppose”. That does not happen every time. But most of the time it does.

With big issues like health care and taxes the people need to be more organized and much more convincing. It is hard to show elected representatives that health care should be subsidized or that taxes should be lowered. It is even harder to show them how to improve these big issues. But without a voice from the people, nothing will change. In Israel there was a high tax on what was deemed “luxury items”. Electronic products like TVs and home entertainment products were taxed at up to 100%. This was a taxation law enforced until 2006. Everyone knew it was ridiculous, so everyone who went out on a trip brought something with him. People would hide little speakers in their luggage. Just about every person had a DVD player or a small TV in their original box when they arrived at the airport. The law was ridiculous. Government taxing officials said that if the tax was lowered the state would lose money and that would be bad for everyone. What’s wrong with paying twice as much for a nice home stereo. You want a nice thing, you should be willing to pay for it. That all sounded “LOGICAL” but it was ridiculous. When the government lowered the tax by 50% to 80% almost nothing happened. No big sales by electronic shops. No big statements in the Knesset (house of representatives) on losses in taxes. The only thing that changed is the number of people with big boxes bringing by themselves DVD players and TVs. Actually, today the market is flooded with cheap electronic products.

But what about really important government decisions like how much to spend on security (military) versus medicine (cancer drugs)? This is the age old question government leaders have been asking. In classic economics of the 17th century the English wondered what to make and sell: “guns or butter”. Guns are good when you need to defend your country. Butter is good when you want to make the people happy. You can’t eat guns and you can defend with butter. But the question of what the people really need, not just want, when it comes to what the tax money should be spent. In Israel the military spending was always a “sacred cow”. You don’t mess with the security of the country no matter what. Recently there was the case of the American F35 stealth fighter deal. Israeli military really wanted this fighter. But when it came to security with the current situation, it was hard to justify US$ 100 million per plane. For the first time in a long time, this question was brought up. The old military system of asking and getting was not really working that well. What are you going to tell thousands of cancer patients who can’t get expensive medicine if you spend the money on military planes? Are these planes going to stop Palestinian suicide bombers? This is one issue that many people really understood. It took lots of meetings with government officials and lots of private citizens to explain to government the importance of medicine over military. I am sure that many people did not want to hear this. Change is hard, and big change may be the hardest thing. But there is no way of holding it back. I will write more about changes that democratically elected governments have to go through. Sometimes changes that may risk their own existence. Something that most people just don’t know how to deal with.

Libya Falls Into It

LibyaOn Tuesday, Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi promised “To fight to the last drop of blood” as clashes intensified between loyalists and rebels in Tripoli. The latter claimed they consolidated their clutch over a chain of cities across half of the country’s 1,000 mile Mediterranean coast. The fiercest fighting happened in Tripoli. Qaddafi-loyal forces drove through the streets shooting at will from the backs of pickup trucks.

As a result, 62 were confirmed dead in the capitol, and 500 people killed elsewhere, mostly in the eastern city of Benghazi, the geographic flashpoint for the uprising.

LibyaColonel Qaddafi appeared twice on state television, speaking from his Tripoli residence on the grounds of an army barracks. In his address, he said all who challenge the government “deserved to die.” He blamed the situation on “foreign hands,” brainwashing, people distributing pills, and the naivety of youngsters to imitate the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Speaking in first person, his rhetoric was megalomaniacal:

“Muammar Qaddafi is history, resistance, liberty, glory, revolution…”

Similar situations have swept across the Middle East in recent weeks, toppling autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and challenging those in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere.

Born in 1942, Muammar el-Qaddafi has been in power in Libya for forty years.

According to the New York Times he is:

“The financier of an eclectic array of guerrilla groups around the globe, he was responsible, according to Western intelligence, for many of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the mid-80s, including the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270.”

A tricky politician, though, the New York Times says:

“In an about-face to the West, Colonel Qaddafi has re-established diplomatic and economic ties throughout Europe. He has also changed with regard to Israel. The man who once called for pushing the ”Zionists” into the sea advocates the forming of one nation where Jews and Palestinians would live together in peace.”

Colonel Qaddafi founded a pan-African confederation modeled after the European Union. On February 2, 2009, he was named chairman of the African Union. However, in August 2009, the Colonel drew criticism from the American and British government with his exultant reaction to the release from prison of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the one man convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Mr. Megrahi was given a hero’s welcome upon arriving in Libya, and Colonel Qaddafi thanked Scottish and British officials for releasing him.

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Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball: Professional Team as a Reflecton on Economy


Do sports teams make a city? or the other way around? At one time US sports franchises tried to convince city governments that sports teams are important to make the city an important destination site. The argument went, if a city is important enough to have other cultural sites like museums, symphonies and music halls, why not a sports stadium. This has been such a successful argument in the US that many cities have made the investment in a new stadium and attracted a sports team to come with it. Nobody has made the same argument to Tel Aviv. The city has two soccer teams, a basketball team and various other organizations running sailing, swimming and other sports clubs.

As Israel’s second largest city (Jerusalem is first) and the center of Israel’s central region, sports has plenty of drawing power. But unlike in the US and Europe, Israelis do not associate Tel Aviv as an attractive city because of basketball or football (soccer for you Americans). But still, Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball is one of the best teams in Israeli sports. It plays in the Euroleague against the best European teams. Yet, it still plays in small stadiums with teams here in Israel, in a much lower caliber games. So maybe sports stadiums do really matter. Maybe teams like Holon, Ashkelon and Haifa need to attract local fans with a new stadium and a better team.

So is the basketball team a push for a better city? Does it attract people and companies which would not have come otherwise? Does it help the economy of the city in such a way that it is really something the city must support? The way American NBA franchises tell cities in the US? I do not see it. I don’t think that anyone here in Tel Aviv sees it either. Tel Aviv is somewhat different than Miami, Philadelphia or Toronto. It is not a regional city in a big country. It is a medium size city in a small country, spots fan wise isolated by itself (you are not going to see Jordanian or Egyptian fans in a regular game). But still, it’s great to have one internationally known team playing in a great stadium. What Maccabi Tel Aviv brings to the city with it’s high level playing is something that is hard to explain. Together with Nokia stadium you have a feel that you are somewhere else. We are not talking Boston, Los Angeles or Madrid. But still a real international team in a great stadium. It is almost like Tel Aviv is growing up a little. Just for that time while the game is on TV.