Archive for September 2009

Driven mad in Israel

September 30, 2009

There is a well-known phrase round this part of the world: “Only in Israel”. What happened this morning left me so speechless that I am compelled to share it with my readers.

This has nothing to do with finance or the economy or management, my usual themes. This is all about pure Israeli arrogance.

I was slowing down, approaching a traffic light at a busy intersection. I then became aware that on my outside was a car, which had stopped on the pavement separating the contra flows of traffic. When I write stopped, I actually mean that the driver was waiting for a lull in traffic in order to cross over and change directions.

The situation looked dangerous. So rather than stand on principals, I let the driver through. And as the car lurched forward in front of me and jumped awkwardly into the middle lane, what did I see written in large letters on the side? “TRAFFIC POLICE”.

What? This arrogant driver was actually driving a police car. Worse, as I realised why he was driving clumsily. Our moronic hero was using one hand to clutch his mobile phone to his ear!

Surely, there could be no more crimes? Wrong again. Mr Moron then forced his way back into my lane, nearly causing another accident.

Why had I not reached for my mobile camera to film this ten seconds of crazed stupidity? Did I mention that we are talking about a new white Fiat Punto, registration 10 975 65?

Two minutes later, after some further severe lane swapping, Mr Moron pulled over to the side of the road and joined some other members of the esteemed police community.

Continuing my journey in some shock, I was provided with the punchline for this piece. …….My car radio dutifully repeated for the umpteenth time this month yet another announcement, imploring Israelis to drive with greater care and caution. You don’t say!?!?!?!?!?


Short lesson in sound financial management

September 30, 2009

Credit crunch, Madoff, Lehman brothers – we are all wise after the event. But what does it take not to lose all your savings.

Leora Meridor is an experienced  banker and wife of a minister in the Israeli government. She sits on the board of many leading international companies. So what? How many others can point to similar resumes and still lost their trousers?

In March 2009, she was appointed by Tel Aviv University as head of their committee to supervise the institutions’ investments. No small matter. In Jerusalem, the Madoff crisis had wiped out a series of student grants. Tel Aviv’s portfolio had lost over US$40 million over the previous 6 months.

First of all, Meridor opened up the files to understand for herself what her portfolio contained. In other words, she got her hands dirty and did not merely rely on advisors.

She then realised who her client is – an academic institution, which should not be looking to take risks for short term gains.

The President of the university may not have liked her active intervention. Yes, as stock markets have zoomed up by tens of percentage points, the portfolio has missed out some of these gains.

As the global crisis demonstrated, Rome can be built in a day. But it can also collapse in a matter of hours. Tel Aviv University, a fine house of academia, now has a much firmer financial future to develop a path of learning for others.

Watching Israel reflect and atone

September 25, 2009

This coming Sunday, Jews around the world begin a 25 hour fast. The holiest day in the calendar, The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, is a sombre occasion.

In Israel, the country effectively closes down. And as often happens, the day coincides closely with the end of the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fasted during the hours of daylight.

This is a period for deep inner soul searching. In Judaism, the New Year festival is when you ask for forgiveness from your friends and family. Once that has been done, verbally, you try to scratch a deal with The Higher Authority on Yom Kippur.

No easy task. As my rabbi pointed recently, there are some inherent logical contradictions in the theological process. So it gets complicated.

Specifically, in the Holyland itself, we are a country that has a lot to rethink. Leave aside shaky business decisions for the moment. And despite what Goldstone may believe, neither the Israeli establishment nor overall electorate is out “to get” the Palestinians.

No: I am referring to Israel’s two most former senior statesmen; President Katsav and Prime Minister Olmert. They have both left office through resignation and both are now facing prosecution by the very offices they represented.

For the record, Katsaz is suspected of a series of incidents relating to sexual harassment. Olmert faces 3 sets of charges, related to bribery. With some irony, his trial begun today. Both had considerable support in their day from the non-Jewish sector as well.

Israelis do not have to take responsibility for the alledged crimes. They can blame the individuals or the system or whatever. But then I recall that old phrase: “The people get the politicians they deserve”.

And when you internalise those 7 words, you begin to ask yourself some very painful questions. How did we let the system of strict proportional representation carry on for so long? Why did allow ourselves to accept these people, who clearly had untold background issues. (No – I am not prejudging their present trials)? Why have we been so lazy?  

And of course, there is an underlying implication. Until the country takes it upon themselves to be more ethical, responsive, sincere – or as the same rabbi put it, to be more genuinely empathetic towards others – then we can expect to be served more of the same. Surely not? But there again, in the past month, two former cabinet ministers commenced prison terms.

Matt Rees once wrote that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not and cannot be resolved fully until each society atones for and handles some of its own internal inequities. Inactivity is often just a big a sin and as dangerous as the deed itself!

Now there is something to reflect upon, as your tummy is rumbling with hunger.

Boycotting Israel – why?

September 24, 2009

The following article was first published in Hebrew on 23.9.09. He was written by Joshua Sobol, one of Israel’s most popular playrights and long associated with left-wing issues.

The British trade unions decided last week to call for a boycott of Israeli goods produced beyond the Green Line.  They added, in the same decision, a call for a general boycott on the transportation and sale of Israeli products in Britain.  Likewise, they are calling to freeze contacts regarding the upgrading of Israel’s relations with the European Union until the Palestinians receive justice.


There is a reasonable chance that the decision to impose a boycott on Israel by British unions will achieve two results.  On the one hand, it will strengthen the Israeli Right, because the boycott will undoubtedly be perceived by the majority of Israelis as an expression of hate towards Israel by the European Left.  Thus, this pathetic boycott will award another merciful blow to what remains of the Israeli Left which, beaten and wounded, has been crawling towards the right since the Al-Aqsa intifada (which, actually, is the second Naqba that the Palestinians have brought upon themselves).

Additionally, this boycott will spur and develop the special Israeli talent to make the most out of pressured situations.  It already happened in the past when [French] President de Gaulle imposed a total embargo of weapons shipments to Israel as punishment for embarking on the Six Day War against his advice.  This same French embargo instigated the awesome development of Israel’s military and air force industries.  If Israel became a major power in the production of UAVs, anti-missile missiles and a wide ranging arsenal of the most sophisticated weapons of war, indeed it is thanks to the boycott which de Gaulle imposed on us.

Another fact, which until now has perhaps not been given sufficient exposure, is in connection to the contribution of the Arab boycott to the development of the Israel pharmaceutical industry.  I heard from a man who headed one of the flourishing medical industries, that after European pharmaceutical corporations capitulated to the Arab boycott in the first years after the establishment of Israel, the Israeli pharmaceutical industry had no alternative other than to expediently fill the shortage of medicines that was created as a result of the boycott.

Thus, the Arab League contributed to the establishment of Teva Pharmaceuticals, and it turned into a flourishing international giant, which competes globally and, with great success, crushes the same corporations that capitulated 50 years ago to the Arab boycott.

Jews have always been the target of boycotts, imposed on them from time to time by the hateful and the mighty.  It is no wonder, indeed, that we have learned how best to profit from malicious boycotts that have been imposed on us.  It is possible to say that an anti-Jewish boycott is Jewish oxygen.  Even the relationship between the Israeli people and their God is a relationship of uncountable shunnings and bans.

The bans which God imposed upon his people gave birth to two Jewish reactions to this divine ban: Orthodox Jewry repeatedly knocks every day of the year, but especially during the Days of Awe, on the gates of heaven requesting that the divine ban be repealed; whereas atheistic Jewry departed, sighing, from God and his bans, and decided to make the best possible advantage of this essential disadvantage.  From this position was born political Zionism.

Perhaps an intelligent Englishman will be found who, armed with these facts, will enlighten the heads of the British trade unions who rushed with elation in their hearts and pen in hand to sign this new boycott of theirs; perhaps someone will be found who will enlighten them as to the extent of the responsibility which they share for participating in the foiling of Obama’s initiative.  Because they, with their theatrical gesture, have succeeded once again to imbue the Palestinian leadership with the delusion that they have someone to count on in perfidious Albion, and as a result the Palestinians will harden their terms and torpedo the resumption of talks, to the delight of the Israeli Right, which can once again claim that there is no one to talk to.

Once again, the miserable Palestinians are paying the price for the empty gestures of the irresponsible European Left, which derives satisfaction from the very gestures it makes.

Fun and successful management

September 24, 2009

Allow me to plug myself. Go to my LinkedIn address. What I do is enable “senior managers to enjoy their work”. To rephrase, I accept that progressing towards a vision is often hard work and time consuming, but it can also be fun.

When I put the idea to people, I encounter a series of reactions. In some, the “macho” Israeli instinct comes flying out at me – “we must struggle, as that is our tradition”. And you know that the rest of the meeting is not going to go very far too quickly. 

Yet quite often, people become intrigued. You can see a light flicker on at the back of their mind. Little Jimminy Cricket is squeaking: “You mean I can get rid of half of these facial worrylines, and still succeed?”

 I was reminded about all this a few days ago, when I read a wonderful piece in the Financial Times:  “Leaders who use charm to reach the top”.  Get the first line….”Humour and charm are a surprisingly powerful combination as a means of ascent in life”. The author concludes by observing

outstanding business leaders who persuade their teams to laugh and try harder: they apply themselves assiduously to the task. Most world-class chief executives possess charisma – really a captivating blend of charm and wit.

The article cited President Reagan as a master in persuasion of the masses. True, but a better a more lasting example is Bill Clinton.

So how many of you laughed at that last comparison? Yup, sexual innuendoes etc. Again true, but have I not just proved my point. He is a master at working a crowd or an individual, making them feel good and enabling them to do what he wants.

In effect, Obama’s slogan of “yes we can” had been around for many years previously. (His skill or added value was to empower new voters through the internet).

Now take these messages in to your work place. I look at my wife’s two senior executives. In her many years with them, she has rarely heard a negative phrase uttered from their lips. And this is a company that has a track record in beating downturns.

We can all bitch about pay, conditions and the like. However, for many of us, a prime method of being motivated towards improved output is to being made to feel that we are doing a good job. A key tool in that process is charisma.

More positive signals from the Israeli economy

September 23, 2009

The “State of Economy” index, a combination of 5 leading indicators rose by 1.3% in August. This is the fourth consecutive monthly increase.

Particularly encouraging was the sharp rise in exports. This was matched by an increased demand for workers and a corresponding drop in the numbers of unemployed.

The economy has yet to return to “complete normality”. Despite the above, industrial production continues to fall. And the shekel is rising against most of the major currencies, placing a strain on the profitability of exports.

Look closely at what Israel does – management

September 21, 2009

This is the third and final report on a different side of Israel. It is particularly pertinent this week, as together Jews are celebrating their New Year and Moslems are entering the feast of Eid al-Fitr.

Both religions have in common the prophets from the Old Testament. As a practitioner of NLP coaching remarked to me last week, the theologies of all the main religions can be found in modern management and motivation techniques.

To give a specific example: Israel comes to a standstill for the New Year. Yes, it is a period of celebration, as witnessed by the amount of dieting we all try to undergo afterwards.

In parallel, the religion demands that it is a period of reflection. How can a person improve themselves, specifically in relations between themselves and others. Only when this thought process has been completed can they ask for forgiveness from God on the Day of Atonement, which follows only 10 days after the New Year holiday.

I have spent much of the past month reading up on the subject. I can recommend the book “Essays on the days of awe” by Rabbi Chaim Sabbato. And the more I read, the more I realised the comparison with the theory of managing human resources.

Here’s what I mean. When somebody goes to a coach in their private life or professional career, they are looking for help. Broadly speaking, they want that coach to offer them a sign of hope, which they can latch on to.

The coach frequently engages the client in a process of inner reflection, forcing the person to ask some hard questions about themselves. And how is this done? Often through a combined process of deep thought and verbal admission, which produce a working plan of what needs to be changed.

Now look at the book of Deuteronomy – Chapter 30, verse 14:  “And the word is very close to thee, in your heart and in your mouth”. There are several interpretations to this innocuous-looking statement.  

Clearly, what the reader is being told is that what you need to do is look intimately at yourself. The tools to run and to improve your life are close at hand, often without you realising it. Do not be frightened; think positively and state truthfully what needs to be said, without fear of others.

And now I understand why there are so many capable and competent life coaches in Israel.