Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What I Saw During Operation Pillar of Defense By Nira Lee

What I Saw During Operation Pillar of Defense
By Nira Lee

Four years ago, watching the coverage of Operation Cast Lead from the comfort of my dorm, I was a conflicted college student. As supportive as I was of Israel, I still found it painful any time I heard about civilian casualties in Gaza. What I saw portrayed in the media didn't add up: on the one hand I knew that the IDF was engaged in careful efforts to prevent civilian casualties, despite Hamas's strategy of fighting from amongst its own civilian population. Yet the media made it seem like the IDF was actively targeting civilians.

Back then, I understood Israel's efforts at protecting civilians as a something akin to a talking point -- I had no personal involvement in the conflict. Yet I had no idea how true it is until I myself participated in last week's Operation "Pillar of Defense" as an officer in the IDF.

When I moved to Israel and enlisted, I joined a unit called the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is devoted to civilian and humanitarian issues.

As an International Liaison Officer in the Gaza office, my job primarily entails coordinating transfers of goods, aid, and delegations into Gaza. I work closely with representatives of the international community, and although our perspectives may differ, we maintain relationships of mutual respect born of a common goal; I am here to help them succeed in their work improving the quality of life in Gaza.

While the day-to-day work is challenging in Gaza, I learned over the past ten days that the true test comes with crisis. At exactly the point where most militaries would use the heat of war to throw out the rulebook, we worked harder than ever to provide assistance wherever and whenever possible.

The eight days of Operation "Pillar of Defense" have been some of the hardest I have ever known physically and emotionally. The college student from Arizona would never have thought it possible to work 20 hours a day, fueled only by adrenaline and longing for just an hour of sleep on a shelter floor -- wearing the same filthy uniform because changing, much less showering, wouldn't allow me to get to a shelter in time when the next rocket barrage hit. And no, wearing the green uniform does not mean that you aren't afraid when the sirens sound.

Had you told me four years ago that there were IDF officers who stayed up all night under a hail of rockets, brainstorming ways to import medical supplies and food to the people of Gaza, I am not sure I would have believed you. But I can tell you it is true because I did it every night.

What amazed me the most was the singular sense of purpose that drove everyone from the base commander to the lowest ranking soldier. We were all focused completely on our mission: to help our forces accomplish their goals without causing unnecessary harm to civilian lives or infrastructure.

It is harder to explain the emotional roller-coaster -- how proud and relieved I felt every time a truck I coordinated entered Gaza, and how enraging it was when we had to shut down the crossing into Gaza after Hamas repeatedly targeted it. Or how invigorating it was help evacuate two injured Palestinians from the border area, only to be informed minutes later that a terrorist had detonated a bomb on a bus near my apartment in Tel Aviv.

So after all that I see and do, nothing frustrates me more than the numbers game that is played in the media. The world talks about "disproportionate" numbers of casualties as the measure of what is right and wrong -- as if not enough Israelis were killed by Hamas for the IDF to have the right to protect its own civilians from endless rocket attacks.

In my position, I see the surgical airstrikes, and spend many hours with the UN, ICRC, and NGO officers reviewing maps to help identify, and avoid, striking civilian sites. One of our pilots who saw a rocket aimed at Israel aborted his mission when he saw children nearby -- putting his own civilians at risk to save Gazans. At the end of the day, what these "disproportionate numbers" show is how we in Israel protect our children with elaborate shelters and missile defense systems, whereas the terror groups in Gaza hide behind theirs, using them as human shields in order to win a cynical media war.

What's really behind the headlines and that picture on the front page? Every day, I coordinate goods with a young Gazan woman who works for an international aid organization. Last month we forged a bond when we had to run for cover together when Hamas targeted Kerem Shalom Crossing -- attacking the very aid provided to its own people. During the eight days of Operation "Pillar of Defense", not one passed without a phone call, just to check in. "Are you ok?" I would ask. "I heard they fired at your base. Please stay safe", she would reply. And every night I made her promise to call me if she needed anything. These are the things that the media fails to show the world, just as they underplay how Hamas deliberately endangers civilians on both sides of the border -- by firing indiscriminately at Israel from Gaza neighborhoods.

Maybe stories such as these make for less exciting headlines, but if they received more attention there would perhaps be more moral clarity, and thus more peace in the Middle East.

2nd Lt. Nira Lee is an Arizona native. She moved to Israel in 2010 and has been serving in the IDF for the past two years. She works as a liaison officer to international organizations out of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thank You, Prime Minister

Thank You, Prime Minister

by Donniel Hartman

Socrates taught us that the wisest of persons is the one who knows that they do not know. Our rabbis have taught us that the wisest person is the one who is open to learning from others. What they both hold in common is the notion that the fool is the person who knows that he or she knows. Acquiring wisdom is a journey which begins with the recognition that one has what to learn and a continuing willingness to learn from others and life's experiences.

For some, the central question surrounding Operation Pillar of Defense is who won, whose truth prevailed. For me, the central question is what have we learned, and what can we adopt as we construct our future foreign policy. Before the operation, Israel's policy and public assumptions were founded on a number of beliefs and "truths": we are alone and can count only on ourselves, the world is against us and public relations is useless in an anti-Semitic universe, in the Middle East the lingua franca is power and compromise is weakness, for all of Israel's challenges a solution can be found in the use of power, fear must guide our policy while hope is naive, and once Islam enters into the equation the conversation is over,

All of the above have dominated Israel's discourse, both when it comes to a nuclear Iran, as well as with the stalled peace process with the Palestinians. None of the above, however, shaped Israel's actions in Operation Pillar of Defense. Quite to the contrary, Israel tried out a new set of assumptions and was surprised by their efficacy. It refrained from an extensive ground campaign, not only because it believed that such an operation would not result in additional gains, but also because it would undermine the opportunities made possible by this new set of assumptions.

What have we learned? First, we are not alone. When our actions are grounded on a strong moral foundation and our response commensurate to our legitimate rights, there are many who are willing to stand on our side and by our side. Second, in such a reality public relations are beneficial, but PR can never be a substitute for good policy. Third, Israel's world is most secure when it works in close cooperation with the United States administration (and not merely the Congress), and when it does so, new avenues become possible.

Fourth, while the use of military force could possibly wipe out the existing stockpiles of Hamas missiles, it would not prevent their replenishment. Even with the blockade of Gaza and a friendly Egyptian government, more than 10,000 missiles still found their way into the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Because Israel possesses a hammer it does not mean that the solution to the dangers from Gaza is a nail. Through the confluence of America being a true ally and an Egyptian government both deeply allied with Hamas and at the same time in need of showing the United States its continued importance as a potential constructive force, a new factor was introduced which could possibly alter the current failed status quo in Sinai.

Fifth, Islamic fundamentalism is not a conversation ender. While it neither breeds love for Israel or Jews, it is not necessarily devoid of real-world calculations and self-interests, and as a result can be both negotiated with and potentially play a constructive role.

Sixth and most important, while fear is here to stay, foreign policy should not be merely a response to this fear but rather should be geared to creating the possibility for hope. In choosing to suspend for now additional military operations, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government chose to live up to the Rabbinic adage that true strength is sometimes expressed in self-control. It is in such expression that fear ceases to dominate one's consciousness and behavior, and new and unforeseen possibilities are allowed to enter the arena.

The politics of fear are often popular, particularly in an election season. Fear needs constant feeding and provides purpose, consistency and predictability. Hope is frail and opens oneself to disappointment. Hope is about investing in the unpredictable and as a result often generates great anxiety. Do we dare to really want change, knowing that we may never achieve it? Do we dare to explore uncharted paths and policies knowing full well the precariousness of our existence? Do we dare to open up our old truths to reevaluation without the certainty of where this will end?

Prime Minister Netanyahu chose a new path for Israel. He exhibited great courage, vision, restraint, and skill. None of us knows whether this will prove successful. Have no fear; the old assumptions are lying ever-ready to reclaim their place. Do not worry; our ground forces are still prepared for what tomorrow may bring. Today, however, we are in his debt for his willingness to pursue the path of wisdom – the path which dares to both questioning what one knows one knows, and is open to exploring the unknown.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

War Diary Entry Number 2 from Rabbi Mauricio Balter, of Kehillat Eshel Avraham in Beersheva.

Dear Friends:

I think psychologically, I put off writing this until the end of the day with the hope the news might be better. It is not.

Reproduced below you will find War Diary Entry Number 2 from Rabbi Mauricio Balter, of Kehillat Eshel Avraham in Beersheva. Rabbi Balter is also the president of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.

At our kehillot in the south, Shabbat services were held as usual, with more than one community finding it necessary to cram people into a bomb shelter. In Beersheva, we hope we are no more than two weeks away from the installation of a new, and larger, bomb shelter.

It is hard to imagine the emotions of people walking to or from services, knowing the siren might sound at any moment, and with seconds to find shelter.

Masorti kehillot and members from less affected parts of the country have been offering hospitality to those from areas under direct fire.Kibbutz Hannaton will host 100 children from the Neve Hana Youth Village.
Our NOAM youth have been distributing neck-warmers to troops gathering in the south, much as we did in 2009. Shirat Machar, our NOAM singing group, will be entertaining children relocated from the south to areas in the north. Two of our rabbis, Mijael Even David of Karmiel and Liron Levy of Holon, have been called to active duty. They cannot serve the IDF as rabbis, but they can serve as soldiers. We think Liron may be the first female rabbi called to active duty. May they, and all IDF soldiers, go in peace and return in peace.

In partnership with the Rabbinical Assembly, our Masorti Leadership Mission (December 3-6) will now be a joint solidarity mission. We pray that by the time of our arrival, things will be much improved. I have twice before had the privilege of leading joint Masorti-RA Solidarity missions. It is not fun to see your friends living with the threat of rockets, but it is important we be there to show our support.

Crisis does bring our community together. The Masorti/Conservative movement is joining with others to unite behind the vital work of the Jewish Federations of North America. Please make your gift here.

David H. Lissy
Executive Director and CEO
War Diary Entry Number 2, From Beer Sheva
Rabbi Mauricio Balter, Congregation Eshel Avraham

A few minutes ago Shabbat ended, and I'm sitting here writing the second entry into my war journal.
The first one I wrote four days ago, and it feels like ages ago.

I would like to share with you the experience of Shabbat. In our community, we decided to announce that the synagogue would be open for prayers and that I would be there. The idea was not to invite or encourage people to get out of the house when we are in war. I would remind you that it is the moments of moving from place to place that are the most dangerous. Because when the sirens go off, you have to quickly find cover, which isn't always easy. In these circumstances, leaving the house is everyone's independent decision.

Yesterday, at 5 PM I opened the synagogue (prayers start at 5:30). At 5:15 there was a siren. Many people who had been on their way to shul turned and went back home. In the end, we were nine people who prayed together and went home.

The night passed with tense quiet and no sirens. That is, until 7AM this morning when I got a glimpse of how the rest of the day would look.

We started prayers with three people and I thought, again we won't get a minyan. In the end, more people came and we ended up with a group of 15. During the time of Torah study, at 10AM, there was another siren. We moved quickly and quietly to the shelter (please G-d we'll be getting our new shelters in ten days). I asked the people there to tell stories of how they have been dealing with the sirens of the previous days. One of the women told of an argument she had with her mother about the possibility of going to Tel Aviv for the day on Thursay. She said, "In Tel Aviv, we can have some peace and quiet." But on that day, at 6:30PM, when they were in the middle of an art workshop, there was a siren in Tel Aviv, too.

Others told stories as well. In the end, I told my story of what happened on Thursday, when I returned from visiting my mother who is in a rehabilitation hospital. A siren sounded right when I stood at an intersection between two main roads in Beer Sheva. Following instructions, I immediately began looking for cover. I looked at the four corners of the intersection: On on corner there are two petrol stations (not a recommended place to find cover), on the second corner they are building a mall, on the third is a playground and sports equipment, and on the fourth, very far away with a high fence, was a building. What to do??? Where to run to????

The sound of the siren is piercing, and I realize that I must find cover. But there is none to be found! Suddenly I see a huge truck stop at the intersection. The driver gets out, stands between the wheels, and calls me to stand next to him to take cover. He says to me, "It's better here than outside!" I look at him and thank him. After a few seconds, I say, "What's your name?" He smiles and says, "Pinni". I say, "My name is Mauricio". I figure, in case something happens, I should know who my new friend is.

This is how we live. We are friends in our shared destiny and try to protect one another. We are not a perfect nation and there is a lot to fix. but we are definitely a nation with solidarity, and the mutual help is felt every day anew. It finds expression in many little things that we are experiencing these days.

Pinni, the truck driver who invited me to take cover next to him, is our neighbor. Yesterday, when he saw that my daughter Maya is in advanced stages of pregnancy, he went and brought her challah for Shabbat. Hundreds (I am not exaggerating) of telephone calls and emails from people around the country calling and offering to host people for a few days, people who they don't know, to find some rest from the tensions, they are all a source of tremendous pride for me, to be part of this nation and this country.

Today there is another source of worry: Reservists received their "tzav 8" orders. It's a very small country and the army is the nation itself. Neighbors, friends, acquaintances. On their behalf: Go safely and return home safely!

May the One who makes peace in the heavens bring peace to us and to all of Israel and the entire world, and say Amen.

Rabbi Mauricio Balter
Congregation Eshel Avraham
Beer Sheva, Israel

Mauricio Balter Pic

Doing what we can in an unredeemed world

Doing what we can in an unredeemed world

The Times of Israel

Rabbi Dr Donniel Hartman is President of Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem and Director of the Institute's iEngage Project

The foundational obligation and responsibility of every nation is to protect its people. When it comes to Israel, this obligation has a particular twist of a profoundly secular nature. Rising out of 2,000 years of powerlessness, and 2,000 years of belief that salvation of Israel is in God’s hands, the modern State of Israel chose to live by the credo that God helps those who help themselves.

Instead of waiting for God to repeat the Exodus story and again redeem God’s people with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” with the rebirth of Israel, the Jewish people have chosen to wait no more. We recognize that we don’t live in a redeemed world, in a world where God ensures that everything will work out, that everything will find its right place. It is a world in which the just do not necessarily prosper, nor do the wicked by definition fail.

If we are to achieve, it will only be the result of our efforts on our own behalf, and even then with no guarantee of success. To be a Zionist is to embrace this reality, not as a curse but as a responsibility, if not a gift. To be part of shaping one’s own destiny and defining one’s peoples’ history in the midst of the uncertainty of an unredeemed world is the privilege which Israel has bestowed upon modern Jewish life.

It is critical that we remember the above as we assess our actions and responsibilities in Operation Pillar of Defense. First, we simply have to do what we have to do. What any nation not merely has the right to, but the obligation to do. Our citizens cannot be terrorized, nor our soldiers attacked, without attempts on our part to prevent them and stop them from occurring in the future.

While the world is filled with Monday morning quarterbacks, questioning the efficacy of every move with the benefit of hindsight, the targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari and the destruction of the long-range missile capacity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad was at the very least a plausible attempt by Israel to fulfill its obligations and responsibilities as a sovereign nation.

Living in a non-redeemed world, in a world where the just do not necessarily prosper nor the wicked by definition fail, obligates us to act to protect ourselves and better our future. However, precisely because the world is not redeemed, actions which are just, actions which are necessary, and even acts which are prudent, are not guaranteed to succeed. In a non-redeemed world we must remember that not every problem has a solution, and doing the right thing will not necessarily lead to a positive result.

I dream of an Arab peace partner who will want to join with me in working to make our region truly bloom. As a Zionist I recognize that my dreams will only come true to the extent that I fulfill my responsibilities and pursue every possibility for peace to reign. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, however, are not peace partners and when promulgating an approach to Islam which makes Jewish presence and independence in Israel an affront to Allah, they create a nightmare.

In their world, Jewish civilian casualties are a legitimate military goal, while Muslim civilian casualties a public relations success. In their world, success is not measured primarily by their ability to better the life of their people, but by their ability to endure suffering on the altar of a distorted version of Allah’s will.

As painful as this reality is, the responsibility of one who has chosen to recognize that one’s world is not redeemed is to see this reality for what it is. It will not be changed by the saving hand of God, nor will it be resolved by a military operation, whether limited or extensive. We must avoid the Messianic temptation of believing that our military is God and that because our cause is just, we will by definition prevail.

The dream of seeing Hamas and Islamic Jihad waving a white flag, or the population of Gaza repudiating their leadership and tactics is precisely that – a dream. It is not a reality, and certainly not one which will be ushered in through military action. A substitute will be found for every terrorist leader who is killed, and every missile which is destroyed will inevitably be replaced.

For some, the above will be depressing. The danger in this perception is that depression is all too often a fertile ground for Messianic fantasies, for belief that because it ought to be so, it is in our hands to make it so. Messianic fantasies lead to irrational demands of our politicians and military leaders. In such an environment, one is tempted to reach beyond one’s grasp, and ineffective, not to speak of dangerous policies and operations inevitably ensue.

With the rebirth of Israel, the Jewish people have embraced reality and our responsibility to do our best within it. We have relinquished the need for salvation as a standard of success and have chosen instead the beauty, complexity, and responsibility of living in a non-redeemed world. One of the “advantages” of the Middle East is that it always brings one back to the incompleteness of reality. This is our world, and our task is to create pockets of decency, sanity, safety, prosperity, and yes, even holiness within it. It is normal to want more. However, if you need more, you undermine Israel and the Jewish people’s ability to continue on our journey.

In our world, you can do the right thing, the necessary thing, the prudent thing, and still not achieve the desired outcome. In our world, there is a simple truth:

"It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it."
The Ethics of the Fathers

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How Waze’s crowd-sourced data helped FEMA deliver the gas after Sandy

How Waze’s crowd-sourced data helped FEMA deliver the gas after Sandy

By Ryan Kim

With gas shortages rampant following Hurricane Sandy, FEMA and the White House turned to crowd-sourced navigation app Waze to gather data on where to send gasoline fueling trucks. The episode showed how mobile crowd-sourced data and tools like Waze can be helpful in a crisis.

Close to 30 million mobile app users turn to Waze to tap its crowd-sourced data for car directions. The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and the White House saw an opportunity to use the app in a new way, following widespread gas shortages due to Hurricane Sandy.

The government agencies called up Waze Friday night and asked for help in figuring out where to send gasoline trucks in New Jersey. Since many gas stations were out of power or were unable to open, the challenge became understanding where to send the fuel and who needed it most.

Di-Ann Eisnor, Waze’s VP of platforms and partnerships, told me that within an hour, Waze had a simple system up and running that allowed users who visited a gas station to get a system message that allowed them to report the conditions there. The users were able to leave a chit-chat message explaining if there was gas available, how the lines were and how long the wait was. The Waze app also displayed pins on its maps for local gas stations that were open.

Waze relayed hundreds of chit-chats back to both FEMA and the White House and sent the data along to Google’s Crisis Maps, which collected disaster resource information. After opening up a line of communication with New Jersey residents, Waze heard from users in Staten Island and Long Island, who also complained of gas shortages. Waze then expanded its reporting program Saturday night to those affected areas and turned over that information to the government, helping them target more gas stations.

Eisnor said it’s unlikely that the government would have turned to Waze even a year ago. But after growing rapidly to about 30 million users, up from 13 million users six months ago, the app has sufficient reach to mobilize people and gather good data.

“We did not think there would be a fuel shortage and FEMA would need to talk to the Waze community but I think it’s a given now that a problem like this needs to be crowdsourced and government and citizens need to work together,” said Eisnor.

She said there are more opportunities for systems such as Waze to work with government agencies on tasks like relaying Amber Alerts or routing traffic around trouble spots. Waze, she said, will likely work on how to pass data directly on to the government during emergencies instead of relying on people at the company to do that.

Eisnor was also pleased at the response from users, who are becoming more attuned to the idea of assisting each other and giving back to the greater good through crowd-sourced tools. In future crisis situations, having a widely used platform and a willing group of users could play an even bigger role in restoring order, gathering information or providing need.

“Everyone was just helping each other out. Things can change when people are involved in massively-scaled crowd participation,” Eisnor said.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Taking a Tour of Israel's Innovation

Members of global Jewish advocacy group AJC spent a week in October exploring a different Israel.

New Yorkers on the InnovatioNation tour learned about solar energy developments at Israel’s Arava Power.

The 15 New Yorkers who came to Israel for an October “InnovatioNation” tour with the Westchester chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) didn’t spend a lot of time at classic tourist sites such as Masada.

Most of them had already been to those places, and were ready to delve into more behind-the-scenes aspects of Israel — from the multinational Bialik Rogozin school in South Tel Aviv to the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Sde Boker; from cutting-edge companies like Urban Aeronautics to startup incubators like The Hub TLV.

“This is my eighth trip to Israel, and I’ve always done the usual things,” George Bruckman tells ISRAEL21c. “I got tired of the hospitals and the schools and the social agencies. Then I read the book Start-Up Nation and couldn’t put it down. When I read about this trip, I felt it was a must for me,” says the Tuckahoe, NY, resident.

The trip, which was implemented by Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel and guided by Marty Friedlander, was conceived as an appropriate way to cap off a regional five-year AJC initiative, “Israel … New Perspectives,” designed to deepen the members’ familiarity with Israeli culture, diplomacy and business.

“We brought Israelis to our region from the literature, film and wine industries,” explains AJC lay leader Judy Rieger of White Plains, NY. “We envisioned it as a five-year program, and as we approached that mark we decided that instead of bringing Israel to us, we should come to Israel.”

Keshet’s Innovation, Imagination and Ingenuity tourists take a look at Better Place electric car network.

Working with Keshet and relying heavily on ISRAEL21c coverage to choose points of interest, Rieger says her goal was to build enthusiasm for the Jewish state.

“I wanted people to be excited about Israel – more excited than they were beforehand – and to be enthusiastic about exploring more aspects of Israel and AJC,” she says.

Some of the participants have been involved with AJC for years, some are brand-new board members and others have no affiliation with AJC. “Two couples came as a result of a book club in our area that read Start-Up Nation,” says Rieger.

“We’re very inspired by the startup spirit here and the culture that allows it to thrive, whether it’s Better Place [electric car network] or Hadasit [technology transfer company for the Hadassah Medical Organization]. “It’s been eye-opening and fun, and has spurred many wonderful conversations.”

The group visited Mobileye, the developers of vision-based automotive safety systems.

The group stopped at Herzliya to meet with Gemini VC Fund’s Ed Malevsky. They visited Evogene, an agri-tech startup involved in crop development for extreme climates. They heard from Arava Power co-founder Yosef Abramowitz, a global pioneer in solar energy, and they explored some of the challenges and triumphs in Israeli-Palestinian environmental cooperation at the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership.

“I’ve been very impressed by the academic backgrounds, command of language, maturity and dedication of the young people we’ve met,” says Bruckman.

The group also visited Verisense, a Jerusalem-based high-tech company that is working to build up the ultra-Orthodox work force; the Negev Solar Energy Development Center; and Mobileye, developer of vision-based automotive safety systems.

“Wherever we’ve gone, we’ve really tried to find that kernel of what is Israeli about this particular company,” says Rieger.
The visitors spent time with children at Tel Aviv’s famous Bialik-Rogozin School.

Other speakers included Gidi Greenstein, founder and head of the Reut Institute think tank, Member of Knesset, Einat Wilf, and Shlomo Caine, a 30-year veteran of Israeli high-tech, former venture capitalist and now a consultant to startups.

Some conventional touring was on the agenda as well: the Israel Museum, the Tower of David sound-and-light show, Old Jaffa and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Ayalon Institute pre-state clandestine munitions factory, Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda open market, wine-tasting at Tzora Winery and a drive through the Elah Valley, setting of the ancient clash between David and Goliath.

“What grabbed my attention most were two biotech companies — Evogene and Hadasit,” Harriet Schleifer of Chappaqua, NY, tells ISRAEL21c. “Both of those are relevant to my life because my husband is in the biotech industry.

“I’ve been here several times and I love the country,” she continues, “but typically we tend to see historical and archeological sites. This was a total change of pace, and it fit very well into our AJC mission in the Westchester area — to showcase the achievements of Israel and not have Israel simply be either a victim or an aggressor.”

Rieger explains that the stop at Bialik-Rogozin was added because AJC Westchester screened the Academy Award-winning documentary about the multi-ethnic school during its Jewish Film Festival last spring.

“Our visit to the school gave us a unique window into the immigration and educational issues in Israel today. Although only a few of us had seen the film, everyone was enriched by the experience and impressed by the programs, staff and amount of volunteer effort that goes into making the school successful.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

For the right man, Israelis would make peace

For the right man, Israelis would make peace
The consensus is moving to the right, but that doesn't mean Israeli Jews won't support a deal with the PA if the right leader comes along, a new study shows.
By Akiva Eldar

When Labor Party chief Shelly Yacimovich reads the new survey by Tel Aviv University's Walter Lebach Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence, she'll be able to smile and tell her campaign advisers: "I told you there was no need to get worked up about the peace blather from that Abu Mazen" - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The survey, conducted in May, finds that 80 percent of Israelis don't believe it's possible to make peace with the Palestinians. Half of them don't believe it's ever possible to make peace, while half don't believe it's possible in the foreseeable future. About two-thirds support a diplomatic solution, but many more still eagerly buy the convenient argument that there's no partner. What a pity.

The survey is part of a long-term study under way since 2002 led by four specialists from Tel Aviv University: professors Michael Hopp, Yochanan Peres, Izhak Schnell and Dan Jacobson. They compare their findings with similar studies they conducted in 2002, 2003 and 2005.

In the first, they interviewed 3,800 Jewish Israelis in Israel proper and the West Bank, in the second 1,100, in the third 500 and in the fourth 1,200. Each survey was carried out during a relatively quiet period by two research institutes and was found to be free of errors.

The (relatively ) good news is that 87 percent of secular Jewish Israelis believe in the need for peace with the Palestinians, but only half the religiously observant and a smaller percentage of the ultra-Orthodox believe this. Traditional Jews have moved to the right and are now in the middle of the road.

The marginal occupation

The study shows that the occupation has become a marginal element in the national debate among both secular and traditional Jews. Moreover, only about 20 percent of secular Jews see the demographic threat as an existential problem and only one-third believe the occupation and the settlements are creating a security threat to Israel.

In the poll, nearly half the respondents consider Palestinian terror a major security problem; this reflects the strong influence of the second intifada and the terror from the Gaza Strip, making it hard for large segments of the population to support a compromise with the Palestinians. "These findings might well show that the policy of continuing the creeping occupation and the settlements is indeed bearing fruit and leading a change in positions among the public, even if gradual," the rearchers write.

Within the Green Line, the number who consider themselves rightists or right-leaning has increased from 41 percent to 48 percent. Two-thirds of this increase comes at the expense of those who say they hold centrist positions. But between 2002 and 2012 the left has strengthened; it has grown from 20 percent to 25 percent of the population.

The study shows that the right's determination to take action to advance its goals is stronger than the left's. This is seen mainly in the willingness to act against government decisions to evacuate settlements or territory, although this willingness is limited to nonviolent means.

While 60 percent of the public supports a democratic solution to the conflict, 22 percent of Jewish residents of the West Bank prefer the authority of the rabbis to the authority of the elected institutions.

Only six percent of the respondents (14 percent of the settlers ) see the use of violence to prevent withdrawal from the West Bank as legitimate, while 59 percent (70 percent of the settlers ) believe that the public only has the right to fight for its beliefs within the law (compared with 31 percent and 45 percent respectively at the beginning of the decade ). Around 37 percent of the secular respondents see the settlers as pioneers, compared with 32 percent in 2005, and 35 percent see them as "the bedrock of our existence," compared with 23 percent in 2005.

But this is only theoretical support. About 70 percent of the respondents show a preference to remain where they are living today. Twenty percent of the religious would prefer to move to live in the territories, whereas 14 percent would prefer to leave the country.

It turns out that the hard core of settlers as represented by Gush Emunim, which has pushed the Israeli government and public to settle in the territories, hasn't spread its messianic ideology among the public, or even among the settlers. It turns out that the main motivations for living in the territories, including among many of the religious, are comfort and quality of life.

Compensation up to 300 percent

The researchers found that it's possible to evacuate half the settlers with their consent if they are offered compensation equivalent to up to 300 percent of the value of their property. While the willingness of Israelis inside the Green Line to compensate the settlers for a loss of property during an evacuation decreased last decade, the willingness to be evacuated increased. And there was no significant change in the percentage of those who would refuse any compensation.

The researchers found that the occupation splits the public between people with a neo-Zionist outlook who emphasize a nationalist-religious agenda and a moderate Zionist majority that focuses on the land inside the Green Line and promotes a social agenda.

Therefore, the right is advancing its agenda unhindered, the researchers say. It's exploiting the confusion among centrists who have lost faith in the ability to achieve peace; the occupation remains on the margins of their political concerns.

Still, the researchers conclude, "a leadership that takes responsibility for finding a compromise solution with the Palestinians is expected to receive the support of most of the public, just as most of the public supported [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan, despite its disadvantages."Did you get that, Shelly?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Microsoft employs more workers per capita in Israel than anywhere else on earth

Microsoft employs more workers per capita in Israel than anywhere else on earth, says Ballmer
Visiting CEO hails ‘remarkable’ Israeli hi-tech, says his firm looks to its Israel R&D center for ideas, innovation — even leadership

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (left) on stage with MS Israel CEO Danny Yamin                                    (photo credit: Chen Galili, Shilopro)

If Silicon Valley didn’t exist, Microsoft would still be able to get some great ideas and acquire new technologies — in Israel. In a conversation with Israel’s Chief Scientist Avi Hasson, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that even though there is only one Silicon Valley, “Israel is among the second tier of innovative places” — akin to Microsoft’s hometown, Seattle.

That conversation — sort of a cozy “fireside chat” between Hasson and Ballmer — took place Monday during Microsoft’s biggest event in Israel: Think Next. The fifth annual event is sponsored by Microsoft’s Israel Research and Development facility, and features some of the most innovative ideas and projects on the Israeli high-tech scene today. Start-ups chosen by Microsoft display their wares at Think Next, and get exposure to investors, angels, and top industry figures that may lead to partnerships, or even a buyout.

Ballmer, both in his own remarks and in his conversation with Hasson, was effusive in his praise for Israel’s high-tech industry. Telling the crowd of about 1,000 that he was “thrilled” to be in Israel, Ballmer said that “the range of innovative things that Israel is doing is remarkable. There is such a wide scope of exciting things going on here. Israel is a start-up center, and there is always something to challenge us here, or one that we can acquire.”

One such company — one that had actually demonstrated its technology at a previous Think Next, said Tzahi Weisfeld, a top executive at Microsoft’s Israel R&D center — was Primesense, from which Microsoft licenses 3D camera technology, key to Microsoft’s Kinect gaming system. A number of MS technologies are “Made in Israel,” Weisfeld explained in a previous interview: These include Microsoft gateway VPN technology; Microsoft Security Essentials anti-virus suite; and the newest product, the recommendation system for Xbox systems, said Yoram Ya’akovi, director of Microsoft Israel’s Development Center, at the event.

That system, which recommends movies, music, games, and other downloadables based on user preference, is now a part of the newly released Windows 8 operating system, which is implemented on all of Microsoft’s offerings, including Windows phones and Slate tablets. “Anyone using preference on Windows 8 is using one of our products,” Ya’akovi announced.

Ballmer, and the rest of the MS Israel team, are naturally excited — and hopeful — over the release of Windows 8, which was just announced weeks ago. The fact that Windows 8 was released in tandem with the new phones running the operating system, as does Microsoft’s new Slate tablet, was no accident, explained Ballmer: The new OS takes an innovative approach to the user interface (replacing the traditional Windows Start menu with a series of customizable tabs to access applications, an interface well suited to mobile devices, according to many industry analysts).

“Windows 8 is the start of a shift for Microsoft,” Ballmer said. “Until now, we have been chiefly a software company, but now we are producing devices.” The future, informed Ballmer, is not just operating systems or even applications, but a user experience that combines all of them. “With Windows 8 we have re-imagined the user interface, giving the same user experience from phone to tablet to desktop, to the 82-inch tablet I have in my office.”

In addition, Ballmer continued, applications — especially those that access the cloud for services — are a major trend as well, and one that Microsoft is also working intensely to excel in. And applications are a major Israeli strength. After speaking to local start-ups that specialize in app development, Ballmer declared that “I saw so much innovation here, it is truly amazing.”

Another major trend in computing, continued Ballmer, is “big data” — getting a handle on the reams of information that come into the world every second of the day… gleaned from the Web, Facebook, Internet retail sites, and a myriad databases. The best — and perhaps only — way to control this flood of data is by implementing advanced machine-learning techniques, essentially “teaching” software to learn the habits and choices users make. “How do we use mass mounts of data to figure out what customers want? How do we figure out how to make the right suggestions?”

As data analysis gets more involved, Ballmer expounded, Microsoft will be concentrating on better ways to tame it — and in this area, especially, he expects Israel to lead.

“Leadership” might sound like a funny term to use when describing the contribution you expect a remotely located branch of the main company to provide, but Ballmer is serious. Israel was the first Microsoft R&D center outside the US, which opened in 1991. Today, the company has centers around the world, but there’s a big difference between the Israel center and the others. “In most countries, the R&D centers are given specific things to do,” explained Ballmer. An example is the R&D center for the Internet telephony app Skype, which is now a Microsoft brand, in Estonia.

“There are only four places in the world where the R&D centers get involved in general and innovative projects: the US, China, India, and Israel.” The US, of course, is where Microsoft is based; and China and India rate, Ballmer theorized, because “half the annual science grads in the world are there.”

Israel, which has far fewer tech grads — but, according to Ballmer, the highest number of Microsoft workers per capita of any place on earth — is on the company’s short list because “of the entrepreneurship and ability of Israel. We have built some great things in Israel. What you have done here is remarkable.”