Middle Class Consumerism: Strong and Steady

Doughnuts sold as the latest fad from the US at a local bakery

If you take a stroll through a mall or visit a new apartment construction sales office, Israel feels more like America in the 1970s or Spain in 2000. For that matter probably Moscow or Beijing or even Rio De Janeiro of the last decade: strong economic growth and growing consumer spending driven by new credit policies. In Israel, large mortgages were unheard of fifteen years ago. Today, a couple with steady income record can get 50% montage without too much trouble. The banks have flooded the market with so much cash, housing prices have been on the rise regardless of supply and lately regardless of geographic location inside Israel. Even apartments if remote towns are rising in prices while supply is plentiful. Builders simply “up-sell” by loading up large apartments with high end finishes. The same goes for consumer products. There are more luxury malls and luxury shops everywhere. Just recently the luxury Italian car companies Maserati and Ferrari hung up their brand symbols on a central Tel Aviv building (just across from the central train station). If you want Rolex, go down to the new luxury building on Ibn Gvirol, a street considered tired and rundown just five years ago. The push by the market is not limited to luxury items. In the middle areas, there are even more signs of strong growth and credit use.

Local prepared food fair in Dizengoff center. Israelis are spending more on takeout food.

In most consumer spending sectors, Israelis are spending more and are driven by easier credit terms. While developers were building up Israel’s shopping malls in the 1990s, many retailers and consumers were wondering who will be using these. Malls were build not only in the cities, but also in main road intersections in rural areas. The idea was to attract local shoppers so they will not have to make a long trip to a big city. Many of these shopping malls were empty at first. But some have managed to attract shoppers and sellers. Today, most middle class Israelis can use credit cards with good credit terms rivaling many European countries. Israel is not yet a consumer driven economy like the US, but there are many who would like it to develop in that direction. The recent economic downturn (2008 in the US, 2010 in Europe) was a warning flag to the Israeli economic regulators, but not enough to scare the banks and retail community. From a street level perspective, credit availability and consumerism are still growing at a strong clip. While some believe that we learn from history and from the failures of others, some see that this is not the case. Stay tuned, this story is slowly developing and the twists and turns will be interesting to follow.

Remembering After the War: The Children of the Winter of 73

“We are the children of the winter of 73 …

“You promised a dove, an olive branch, 

“You promised peace, at home, you promised spring, blooms  “

This controversial song is raising old memories and complaints about the balance between hope and reality. When the two clash, like during and after the Yom Kippur war, idealism about peace and promises to children, seem like something cruel or at least out of touch with reality. Then there are the voices who claim to never believe the naive view of “peace next year” propaganda songs (especially from IDF musical groups). Regardless of your views or beliefs, the wars in Israel, hard and painful, Israeli military bands perform incredibly nice, to the point of “too nice” (syrupy sweet some would describe them) for a band that suppose to motivate troops to the front. Here in Israel you will not find anything close to a Russian army chorus belting out propaganda songs a-la-World War II. You will also not find the European or American brass bands leading a long march of well heeded marching units. So what is this Israeli style army bands suppose to do?

More than anything, Israeli army bands, small, almost cute, and versatile, were designed to entertain. In the case of the “Winter of 73” style songs, they are also somewhat a soothing and recovery function. This role is something that the ’73 Yom Kippur war really made obvious. The war spun dozens of new songs and performances by many small groups. While the country was bleeding and crying, the soldiers were singing. The controversy over what songs IDF bands should sing reflects the obvious need for recovery from the shock of the war. It is obvious to Israelis that once the war was over, there will be a period of grief. It was not obvious that the young, and seemingly naive soldiers, in freshly pressed uniforms, would take the lead in getting the country back on its feet again. Like other wars we saw around the world (i.e. Vietnam, Afghanistan: for Russia) the soldiers did not want to tell their stories and it was hard on them to receive help from the general population. Citizens who think of their armies as losers don’t tend to help the same soldiers when they come back from the battle. So Israelis also stayed quiet and did not exactly jump to help grieving, hurt (mentally) soldiers. So these soldiers were quiet about their losses and even their heroism. The good news is that the silence is slowly dying after forty years. It’s not that great to hear about the losses and the pain, the heroism we can certainly take!

40 Years To Yom Kippur War

Israeli newspapers and TV/radio stations are running stories about the Yom Kippur war (1973). A war that was not popular and to some became a slap in the face and the first real loss for the state. More frightening, the war that saw the IDF losing soldiers and territory. To the Israeli public, in all the years, neither the military nor the government ever explained and analyzed the war. Once the government in charge was voted out, everybody wanted to make the war go away and move forward to better times.

Forty years seems to be enough time to settle down emotional differences. Like other unpopular or “losing” wars, the Yom Kipur war was one dark secret for a long time. Suddenly, old 8mm film and audio reels from dusty old boxes are making their way to the media. One dark secret is how violent the fighting between tanks and ground troops was for a few days. Another dark secret was the heroic acts of many soldiers, many never told before and some simply forgotten. Some soldiers want to contact former friends from forty years ago, connections gone cold with the years. Some soldiers want to thank a soldier, nurse or even an ambulance driver, who saved their life with a small act or an hour of encouragement when they needed it. Some want to thank a voice on the radio, of a mystery helper who guided them to safety. But most want to just talk and meet old soldiers who fought a hard war with no intention to lose and no intention to see so many dead so close to home (and so quickly).

My sister in law’s father, a tank driver, took time away from his ailing wife to meet old friends. The tank war with Syria, was particularly messy and bloody. But what they soldiers, then mearly in their 20’s left in dead friends, more than made up in good live memories. With forty years of silence, especially from the IDF, which they expected better treatment, now a flood of activity is suddenly bublling and boiling. For all it’s organization ability and good intention, the Israeli army command is not happy in dredging up old bad memories of a war that as first was considered a big loss. Armies don’t like to lose territory and they like even less to lose soldiers. When battles are firece, they don’t like to bring up stories of the dead. But to the ones who fought the battles, the ones that actually lived with their freind’s death, keeping silent can be more punishing than bringing up the memories. It seems like suddenly, the “younger” generals are getting that subtle point in the history of the state. AND THAT’S A GOOD CHANGE OF EVENTS !

Israel’s People & Technology: PRISM in Israel

Graphical representation of Israel’s electronic snooping story: People & Tech
Israel’s technology site “People and Technology” reports on security expert’s’ opinion of Israeli’s privacy in the electronic world as exposed as in the US. After the public exposure of the PRISM system in the US by Edward Snowden, technologists from around the world are wondering how much of their information is in their government’s data banks. Or even more disturbing: how much information is in the NSA, CIA, or other American security agency’s from “my own” e-mail and internal data? In Israel it goes without saying that the state and its security organizations snoop on potential security risk suspects. Israel is not only under physical attacks, virtual electronic attacks are also a daily part of life here.

Israel’s security threats and long history of strong and effective security operations give the average citizen an impression of being secured, but also being a potential snooping target. What is different between Israel and most large western states is the scale and cost of security efforts. While the US and UK is expected to spend and deploy a large electronic data gathering systems. Here we expect electronic security systems to be more manual and targeted. Maybe less formal in terms of individual (personal) rights: security organizations may not need to obtain a warrant before tapping or receiving data from the commercial organizations (i.e. Google, Yahoo or ISP). Although Israel is known for it’s technology strength, the country is still decades behind the leading western countries in satellite communication, internet data processing and services, and the latest electronic data gathering and processing. Israel has been known to cooperate with other countries when it comes to gathering and analyzing potential threat information. But in the case of PRISM and other super secret electronic data snooping programs, it is hard to imagine a state to collaborate.

 The story in “People and Technology” did not make enough waves to become a mainstream media issue. I presume that if Israelis were concerned or surprised by expert opinion on electronic data gathering without strong full judicial approval (either warrent or a blanket agreement on specific group of suspects) there would be more stories in the media. But I also suspect of Israelis to be more concerned about the security of the state and less worried about individual rights. After all, when it comes to the state security agencys’ ability to get into anyone’s personal information, Israel has not experienced as much abuse as in other countries (thinking of British newspapers tapping into cell phones of British royals)., But than again, mybe it is only a matter of time until we find out what the security agencies are really doing. Stay tuned, maybe we are in for an Israeli Snowden (or is it an electronic era Vanunu).  

Israel Aerospace Industries Launches Amos 4 Communication Satellite

Israel Aerospace Industries Amos 4 Communication Satellite – Sept. 2013
Today (Sept. 1, 2013) Israel Aerospace Industries launched Amos 4, the most advanced communication satellite deployed to date. The 4.2 ton satellite will give Israel a unique position as a communication supplier in Europe, Asia and Africa. Amos 4 will give Sapcecom, the operating company, capability to supply the Israeli government as well as private and governmental customers high bandwidth communication for TV, telecom and Internet services. In addition to traditional broadcast capability, traditional communication services into rual areas. Israel, is one of the leading service providers racing to give governments in Asia and Africa the ability to connect rural areas without the expense of large terrestrial wired and radio based networks.  

More than simply a commercial communication equipment supplier, Israeli technology companies are showing the drive to shift from mostly military and security products to commercial markets. IAI is one of Israeli’s leading technology companies, long associated with military electronics. This advanced satellite project shows the need for Israel to move from the military supply sector to broad range commercial sector. While the military electronics and systems market is lucrative and has been a strong targe market for Israeli companies, both government and private company leaders are keen to diversify the product mix of large organizations. IAI is one of many technology companies which experienced sharp boom and bust cycles with the a single market focus. Since AIA is a semi-government and highly secretive company (some here still see it as an arm of the military industrial complex), not much is said of it’s financial status. But rumors the last decade, from the years before UAV (military drones) exports lifted the company, was that the company was bleeding financially and the government was barely holding it up. Employees were complaining of very little investment in R&D and very few new orders from new customers (usually countries around the world who can not get their military technology from the US or Russia – read: India, Brazil and Turkey).

Today Israeli companies, not only in technology, also in construction, security services, financial services and agriculture, have gone to areas around the world which are receptive to Israeli products and technology and have little or no vested interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among them are the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and many countries which economically have grown (i.e. Chile, Australia) and can not buy from the first tier suppliers in the US and Europe. Israel has focused less on Africa and more on Asia and America. Today you are as likely to see a group of Spanish speaking Chileans and Mexicans in the Airport or at a Tel Aviv restaurant as you are to find and American or a German. Israeli construction and project companies are still focused on eastern Europe and have been for the last fifteen years. Although not reported in great details, AIA and Alta sales of UAV and technology related to drone operation (control, maintenance and data processing) is sold in 30 to 40 countries, mostly to military customers but also to other commercial uses such as land management and border policing. Israel industry is slowly maturing. Something that many are not only surprised but also a little disturbed. Israel’s role in supplying contries which came knocking on American and Russian doors a decade ago, is worrisome to US and Russian (also NATO) governments. Yet, you can’t blame up and coming economies from wanting to use current technology. This story is just one of many which shows the shift in the world balance, both financially and security.

To Be Continued…  

Israel Aerospace Industries Launches Amos 4 Communication Satellite

Israel Aerospace Industries Amos 4 Communication Satellite – Sept. 2013
Today (Sept. 1, 2013) Israel Aerospace Industries launched Amos 4, the most advanced communication satellite deployed to date. The 4.2 ton satellite will give Israel a unique position as a communication supplier in Europe, Asia and Africa. Amos 4 will give Sapcecom, the operating company, capability to supply the Israeli government as well as private and governmental customers high bandwidth communication for TV, telecom and Internet services. In addition to traditional broadcast capability, traditional communication services into rual areas. Israel, is one of the leading service providers racing to give governments in Asia and Africa the ability to connect rural areas without the expense of large terrestrial wired and radio based networks.  

More than simply a commercial communication equipment supplier, Israeli technology companies are showing the drive to shift from mostly military and security products to commercial markets. IAI is one of Israeli’s leading technology companies, long associated with military electronics. This advanced satellite project shows the need for Israel to move from the military supply sector to broad range commercial sector. While the military electronics and systems market is lucrative and has been a strong targe market for Israeli companies, both government and private company leaders are keen to diversify the product mix of large organizations. IAI is one of many technology companies which experienced sharp boom and bust cycles with the a single market focus. Since AIA is a semi-government and highly secretive company (some here still see it as an arm of the military industrial complex), not much is said of it’s financial status. But rumors the last decade, from the years before UAV (military drones) exports lifted the company, was that the company was bleeding financially and the government was barely holding it up. Employees were complaining of very little investment in R&D and very few new orders from new customers (usually countries around the world who can not get their military technology from the US or Russia – read: India, Brazil and Turkey).

Today Israeli companies, not only in technology, also in construction, security services, financial services and agriculture, have gone to areas around the world which are receptive to Israeli products and technology and have little or no vested interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among them are the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and many countries which economically have grown (i.e. Chile, Australia) and can not buy from the first tier suppliers in the US and Europe. Israel has focused less on Africa and more on Asia and America. Today you are as likely to see a group of Spanish speaking Chileans and Mexicans in the Airport or at a Tel Aviv restaurant as you are to find and American or a German. Israeli construction and project companies are still focused on eastern Europe and have been for the last fifteen years. Although not reported in great details, AIA and Alta sales of UAV and technology related to drone operation (control, maintenance and data processing) is sold in 30 to 40 countries, mostly to military customers but also to other commercial uses such as land management and border policing. Israel industry is slowly maturing. Something that many are not only surprised but also a little disturbed. Israel’s role in supplying contries which came knocking on American and Russian doors a decade ago, is worrisome to US and Russian (also NATO) governments. Yet, you can’t blame up and coming economies from wanting to use current technology. This story is just one of many which shows the shift in the world balance, both financially and security.

To Be Continued…