Good News Friday

Once again in this topsy-turvy corner of the world it’s time for another Good News Friday installment.

We start this week’s line-up with news (h/t Israel Matzav) from Israel’s hi-tech industry once again. This time, the social media giant Facebook have bought out the Israeli startup Onavo Ltd. for $100 million – and what’s even better news is that Facebook have agreed to allow Onavo to remain in Israel rather than transferring it to the USA, making this the first Facebook subsidiary in Israel:

Facebook will acquire a Tel Aviv technology start-up company and open its first office in Israel, the social networking giant announced yesterday.

The deal to acquire Onavo, which reportedly cost Facebook between $100 million and $200m., was far from the largest acquisition of an Israeli tech company.

But Facebook’s purchase is significant because the company plans to convert Onavo’s offices into a new Facebook research and development center, joining the ranks of top American tech companies that have opened R&D centers here. And Facebook’s agreement to keep Onavo based in Tel Aviv, as opposed to relocating the company to Silicon Valley, continues an important precedent for tech companies in Israel, according to an industry analyst.


Onavo, founded in 2010, creates mobile applications that allow users to track their cellphone data usage plans.

The company also offers a paid analytics suite for firms seeking to track mobile user activity. It initially raised $13m. from investors. Currently, Onavo employs 40 people, the majority of whom are based in its Ramat Gan office.

While Onavo is the third Israeli start-up to be bought by Facebook, it is the first to remain in Israel.

Jonathan Medved, a top technology venture capitalist in Israel, said the Onavo deal should be seen in the context of this summer’s acquisition of GPS start-up Waze by Google.

Waze, which sold for $966m., insisted on being based in Israel, opening the doors for other companies to demand the same, Medved said.

“You’ve got to believe that [Onavo] watching that fight happen, and [Waze] succeeding, gave them a little ‘oomph’ to make their own attempt,” Medved said. “You’re now seeing [Israeli] companies speaking essentially truth to power — Apple and Facebook — saying, ‘Don’t close us down.

What makes us special is our Israeli secret sauce.’ “You can’t go forward without Israel and you can’t continue to buy Israeli companies and ship them over to Silicon Valley,” he added.

Just in case you can’t remember which other Israeli hi-tech companies have been bought out, the JPost gives us a handy list:

1. NDS bought by Cisco for $5 billion (2012)
2. Mercury bought by HP for $4.5 billion (2006)
3. M-Systems bought by Sandisk for $1.5 billion (2006)
4. Creo bought by Kodak for $980 million (2004)
5. Waze bought by Google for $966 million (2013)
6. Trusteer bought by IBM for $800 million (2013)
7. Lipman bought by Veri Fone for $793 million (2006)
8. New Dimension bought by BMC for $673 million (1999)
9. Retalix bought by NCR for $650 million (2012)
10. bought by eBay for $620 million (2005)

This news from Facebook and Onavo and the fact that Onavo will be staying in Israel is excellent on so many levels – for the workers themselves, for the Israeli economy and for Israeli prestige abroad. Kol hakavod to all the developers and workers at Onavo, and to the people who negotiated those terms with Facebook.

Hishtil Basil Tree

My next item might have made use of hi-tech technology but it relates to agriculture: an Israeli company has developed a long-lasting basil tree – not a plant – which can provide fresh herbs for years.  I was sent a Hebrew link (thank you Ido) so I googled for an English link and found this: “Basil by the treeful” from Israel 21C which is from a year and half ago! Nevertheless, it is fascinating news!

The Israeli company Hishtil (“seedling” in Hebrew) [it is actually a contraction of 2 words meaning “quick” and “seedling” -Ed.] revolutionized the market for fresh herbs and spices around the world, and now it has developed a new strain of basil for discerning taste buds. Normally basil has a short shelf life, and the plant rarely lives longer than a year.

Using patented techniques, Hishtil grafted two types of basil plants together — a hardy “secret” strain that grows a sturdy trunk, and a leafy aromatic Greek variety with tasty leaves. Together they form the world’s first basil tree. And while the tree still may be sensitive to lower temperatures come winter, bring it inside where it’s warm, says Menny Shadmi, the head of marketing for the company, and it will live a long time.

One of the company’s first grafted trees is already five years old and is doing well, Shadmi adds, hoping the new basil tree will attract hobby plant growers and the nurseries that cater to them.

The new basil tree can also be grown as a bonsai — perfect for city-dwellers looking to grow their own herbs and spices, and also for suburban vegetable gardeners. It can be harvested regularly, but it must keep two-thirds of its leaves at all times to stay healthy.

“Basil is not perennial and dies when the cold period arrives,” explains Shadmi. “So we grafted two species [that] result in a plant which we call an ‘in and out.’ Take it out to the garden in summer and bring it inside in the winter. It will survive for five years.”

Developed to be pest-tolerant, the new tree is also somewhat drought-tolerant.

And a little bit of local patriotism:

Hishtil is based on Moshav Nehalim and has 400 employees, and another 300 at worldwide locations. It has joint-venture nurseries in Turkey, Italy, South Africa, Bulgaria, France and Bosnia.

Moshav Nehalim is about a 5 minute drive from Petach Tikva. 🙂

Kol hakavod to Hishtil on their ingenious creations. May we all benefit from their products in our meals. Bete’avon! Bon Appetit!

My last item for today is, uncharacteristically, political in nature, but this is too good not to share: Peace Now have announced that settlement construction rose by 70% in the first half of 2013:

The first half of 2013 marked a 70 percent increase in construction projects started in Israeli settlements compared to the same period last year, according to a report by a left-wing activist organization released Thursday.

Between January and June of this year, construction began on 1,708 units — 180 in illegal outposts — while last year that figure was 995.

The study by the Peace Now group also found that 44% of the new projects were located east of the security fence, and the vast majority of all the new construction, 1,469 units, began without tenders in settlements where they are not required.

In addition, 1,794 units were completed and 2,840 units in total were under construction during the six-month period.

This is especially good news since there was great concern that an unofficial settlement freeze, expressed via a moratorium on new tenders, was in place:

In May, Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered a freeze in tenders for new housing projects in West Bank settlements in an apparent attempt to help revive U.S.-backed peace talks stalled for three years.

Peace Now said at the time that no new bids from contractors had been solicited for settlement housing since a visit in March by U.S. President Barack Obama.

But in its new report, the group said the “tender moratorium” had little impact on construction because 86 percent of the building that began in the first six months of this year took place in areas where a bidding process was not required.

Interestingly, the extreme-left Peace Now admitted that certain parts of Judea and Samaria will remain in Israeli hands after a peace treaty with the Palestinians:

The group said the number of settlers in the West Bank may have tripled in the 20 years since the Oslo interim accords were signed, but 64 percent of that growth was in areas likely to remain in Israeli hands in any land swaps with the Palestinians.

I wonder if the Palestinians know that their leftist “peace partners” on the Israeli side presume that certain land will remain in Israeli hands. From what the Palestinians broadcast constantly, they demand that every inch of the territories be handed over to them.

At any rate, knowing that housing construction has picked up so dramatically in the Jewish Biblical heartland, and that the number of Israeli residents there has increased so greatly is very heart-warming, and excellent news to take us into Shabbat.

Rain in Tel Aviv

And just as a little finale, the rainy season has begun! I love it when the first rains fall and all you hear are joyous shouts of “Geshem!” (rain!) from the children – and even the adults. 🙂

Here’s a cute photo-essay from Hebrew Ynet for your enjoyment.

Wishing you all a safe, warm and dry weekend.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

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