It’s hard to top the previous post for good stuff about Israel, but I can’t let a Friday pass without a Good News Friday installment, so here goes.
Our first item comes once again from the UK, which despite its sometimes hostile stance towards Israel, has appointed a new trade minister who is not only a committed Jew but thinks Israel is :amazing”:
There are so many Jews at the top of Britain’s Conservative party, Prime Minister David Cameron once quipped, that it should be known as the Torah party rather than the Tory party. With the announcement last Wednesday that Ian Livingston was selected as trade and investment minister and elevated to the House of Lords, Cameron has appointed to the government possibly its most committed Jew yet, and certainly its most outspoken supporter of Israel — which Livingston has called “the most amazing state in the world.”
Livingston, 48, is one of Britain’s most visible business leaders, widely credited with steering telecom giant BT (formerly British Telecom) through the global downturn as its chief executive. Wednesday’s announcement of his departure from the company, which will take effect in September, immediately wiped £400 million ($618 million) off its market value.
Livingston leads an active Jewish life, regularly attending an Orthodox shul, Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue just outside London. He is a well-known supporter of Israel and of Jewish charities, in recent years hosting or speaking at events for high school Yavneh College, the United Jewish Israel Appeal, human rights NGO Rene Cassin, and Jewish business incubator TraidE, among other causes.
In October 2011, in a pre-Rosh Hashanah round-table discussion for the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, Livingston said that he keeps a kosher home and that his two children, Alastair and Emma, “have chosen a reasonably Orthodox path.” Asked to describe and rank the three key determinants of his identity, he replied, “Jewish, Scot, male.”
In that same discussion, asked for a Jewish New Year’s wish, Livingston said he hoped to see the start of “a path to peace for Israel. There is so much to celebrate in Israel. It is the most amazing state in the world and the downside or the pity of it is that it is turning into something slightly different. I don’t think there is a huge amount of time to start treading that path and I hope the next year actually starts to do so.”
During his time at BT Livingston dismissed calls by charity War on Want for the company to disassociate itself from the Israel telecom company Bezeq, and told The Jewish Chronicle: “I have not received a single email from anyone in War on Want expressing any concerns about a relationship we may or many not have had in Syria, in Libya or anywhere else. You wonder and ask yourself repeatedly: Why is it? Is it anti-Americanism? Is it anti-Semitism? Is it anti-Zionism where they treat Israel differently? … That is a discomfort I feel just now. It is not a personal discomfort. It is a discomfort about something in society.”
Shortly after his appointment as chief executive in 2008, he hosted a dinner for 19 Israeli hi-tech firms who showcased their products in the BT Tower.
This is certainly good news for both Britain and Israel and augurs well for the trade relationship between the two countries. Kol hakavod to Mr. Livingston on rejecting and resisting the efforts of the bigoted BDS Brigade. And of course Mazal tov to Mr. Livingston and I’m sure we all wish him the best of luck in his new job.
On a similarly BDS-fail subject, an attempt by several Arab states to block an Israeli-led panel in the UN failed. The fact that the conference was in order to allow developing countries – including countries like the boycotters themselves that don’t have diplomatic ties with Israel – to take advantage of Israeli developments, essentially means that the boycotters were prepared to cut off their nose to spite their face, as long as Israel could be boycotted.
Arab states have failed to block Israel from leading a UN conference in which advanced tools would be showcased for developing countries.
Despite the fact that 141 countries voted in favor of the event a number of weeks ago, opponents from Tunisia, Bahrain and Kuwait launched Wednesday a last ditch effort to block the event, but failed.
The Israeli proposal was intended to allow any state, regardless of whether it has diplomatic ties with Israel, to take advantage of modern technologies and Israeli knowhow in fields such as advanced agriculture, bio-medical technologies, science and a wide array of additional fields.
Kol hakavod to Ron Prosor, who is proving to be an excellent ambassador for Israel. Although personally, I wouldn’t have tried to hard to let those boycotters benefit from Israeli inventions. Let them suffer and stay in the 7th century if that’s what they want.
This item leads us to the next two items, which relate to Israel’s hi-tech industry once again.
The first comes from Israel’s south, where Elbit Systems has inaugurated a technology incubator in Beer Sheva:
Elbit Systems Ltd. … one of Israel’s two biggest defense companies, will inaugurate its technology incubator in Beersheva on Thursday. The incubator, Incubit, will over the next eight years support more than 20 companies in fields synergetic with Elbit Systems’ businesses.
Since winning the Office of the Chief Scientist tender to establish the incubator, Elbit Systems examined at least 50 proposals and concepts from entrepreneurs seeking to join Incubit.
“People with a dream are coming to us, and you see the light in their eyes. For them, this is not just work. We listen, we study the ideas, and we try to link up with them and their passion,” Incubit CEO Ran Ben-Sela told “Globes”. “All the ideas submitted to us can be characterized by the technological depth. Some are filled out and others are PowerPoint presentations. Nonetheless, there is impressive and serious technological potential here, and it’s a great challenge as well as a great risk.”
Some of the proposals submitted to Incubit are undergoing advanced feasibility tests, and Elbit Systems believes that, by the end of the year, Incubit will have its first two portfolio companies, which will be sponsored for two years. Under the business plan, Incubit will accept 4-5 new companies a year and support 12 companies simultaneously. “We’ll begin with one or two companies by the end of this year. In the second or third year, there will be a jump in the number of portfolio companies. These companies will receive infrastructures, relevant human capital, engineering knowledge, and later, Elbit Systems’ marketing capabilities,” says Ben-Sela.
Kol hakavod to Elbit who are encouraging the development of hi-tech in Israel and simultaneously boosting the economic growth of Israel’s south, to the mutual advantage of both sides. I hope this grows into a huge success and is the beginning of more business-sponsored incubators around Israel, especially in the periphery.
Moving to the north of Israel, in a story with a slightly different slant, a Carmiel hi-tech firm headed by a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman leads by example:
To paraphrase the Passover Haggadah, dayenu – it would have been enough — if Hanita Fridman ran a software development company whose vision was to help the ultra-Orthodox find their place in Israel’s workforce. It would have been enough if she herself were ultra-Orthodox. And it certainly would have been enough if she had set up her company far from the center of the country, the better to bring job opportunities to the north.
As it turns out, she is all three. Along with a partner, Fridman (whose husband studies full-time in a kollel) runs start-up computer software development company Karmisoft, where more than half of the nearly two dozen employees are Haredi men and women, in the Galilee town of Carmiel.
But if that sounds like a rare mix, you’re out of the loop on ultra-Orthodox issues, according to Fridman. “Whenever I hear a debate on public policy regarding how to put the Haredim to work, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she said in an interview. “Of course Haredim want to work. It’s just that nobody wants to hire them.”
Job opportunities are what it’s all about for Fridman. “Today more than half the Haredim in school are studying programming, but until very recently there were no jobs for them at all. Here in the Galilee, the only jobs open to them were in education. Our vision is to change that. We hire individuals with advanced and basic skills, and they work in-house on our contracted projects, as well as with companies here in the area that need employees. In many cases, those employees stay on with the companies we placed them with and become regular employees there,” she said.
Karmisoft is on top of the latest trends in app development, with employees expert in hot areas like embedded systems, user interface, web apps, and mobile app development. “It’s a little strange to fathom,” she acknowledged, “seeing the Haredi women who work in our office programming for smartphones, when they themselves use phones that don’t even have text messaging capabilities.”
Carmiel may seem an improbable place for a Haredi-oriented company to set up shop, but the town actually has a substantial ultra-Orthodox community, attracted by the relatively reasonable house prices. Fridman and her family moved there from a kibbutz near the northern town of Ma’alot about a dozen years ago, when they became newly Orthodox (ba’alei teshuva). Fridman has degrees in computer science, businesses administration, and marketing, and has been working in high-tech for over 20 years. “I consulted with rabbis who told me that it was great that I had a successful career, but that it would be even better if I could do something to help the community.” Thus was born the idea for Karmisoft, which Fridman and her partner established in 2010.
Some political and business leaders concerned with the issue of the ultra-Orthodox in the workplace see Fridman’s company as a model of what could be. Several weeks ago, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett visited, and this week she met (not for the first time) with industrial mogul Stef Wertheimer, who is very interested in bringing more Haredim to work in his Tefen Industrial Zone in the north.
This story is incredibly encouraging, especially in the light of the constant media chatter about the “lazy haredim” and complaints of their sponging off society. Read the whole article to get Mrs. Fridman’s interesting take on the integration of haredim into Israeli society. Kol hakavod to Mrs. Fridman and her partners. May Israel benefit from many more entrepeneurs like her.
My last item for this week echoes my previous post in which a Muslim praised Israel. This time the story is about two Muslim brothers who volunteered for the IDF in order to defend their country:
Over the next few minutes, the Golani Brigade’s soldiers who drafted in March of this year will swear allegiance to the State of Israel and commit to do all they can to protect it. Muhammad, an Arab Muslim resident of the Galilee village of Dabburiya, is one of them. Like his friends, he’s excited for the ceremony to begin.
The ceremony begins. As the brigade commander finishes his speech, the soldiers quickly run to their commanders, their families and their friends who have come to show their support and encouragement.
When Pvt. Muhammad Atrash’s turn comes, he doesn’t look for anyone in the audience. “My parents wanted to come, but I convinced them not to,” he explains. “Jerusalem is very far from our home, we don’t have a car and it’s an hour-long drive.”
The commander tells Muhammad to stand in front of him. Instead of the Hebrew Bible, the young soldier picks up a Quran, decorated with Gold ornaments. He swears his allegiance to the State of Israel, holding the book tightly and smiling.
“I’m mostly trying to feel the experience, because It’s my first time ever in Jerusalem,” he says.
For Muhammad, 18, this is an important step in his unique relationship with the Israel Defense Forces – which began a year and a half ago, when his older brother, Milad, 19, chose to enlist.
“While still in high school I asked my family, ‘Why don’t we, the Muslims, enlist?’” Milad recalls. “‘Why do the Jews, the Druze and the Bedouins enlist, while we don’t?’ They explained to me that Jews serve because it’s their country, that the Druze [community] had signed agreements with the IDF and that we have a lot of Islamic movements that oppose military service in the IDF.”
Milad’s response? “I told them I don’t care about that. I want to join the army to protect my village, my country,” he says.
It seems that Milad passed his sense of commitment to Israel’s defense on to his younger brother. When Muhammad graduated high school, he considered immediately pursuing his academic studies – until his older brother convinced him that the army was the best solution for him.
“After a few conversations with Milad, I understood that this was what I wanted: to enlist, to contribute to my country,” he explains.
Muhammad faced some particular challenges at the beginning of his service, in part because he did not speak much Hebrew. “In the first two weeks, I didn’t understand the commands at all [or] what the rest of soldiers were speaking about,” he recalls. “I had already learned some writing in Hebrew, so I would write to my army friends whatever I wanted to say. At first, it was very hard, but slowly I learned it all.”
Read the whole article to learn about these two extraordinary brothers. Although the Druze serve in the IDF, it is fairly unusual for Muslims to do so, and they are not drafted; they serve voluntarily. It is doubly difficult for them since their service is not always welcomed in their home communities.
Kol hakavod to Milad and Muhammed Atrash for overcoming enormous obstacles in order to fulfil their determination to serve their country. If only all our Muslim citizens could learn from their example. May they become great ambassadors for our wonderful country.
And with those happy thoughts I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!