News Highlights March  2013


1. The Second 100 Years.

2. The Israelis.

3.   Water for Peace.

4.   Health Promotion.

5.   Jewish Culture.

6.   Israel Chemicals.

7.   The Wailing Wall Battle Continues.

8.   Ireland – Academic Boycott of Israel.

9.   Technological Revolution.

10.   Peak Hour Drivers to Pay Higher Tax.


The Second 100 years

 After many years of declining numbers Israel's kibbutz movement is staging a revival, with many potential members wanting to join the unique form of collective living.

The total kibbutz population of about 143,000 is the highest in its 102-year history. More people are now joining kibbutzim than leaving and the addition of working-age adults and young children is helping to redress the balance of an ageing population.

Most kibbutzim have implemented reforms so as to become commercially viable. Privatization with differential incomes and home ownership has increased the attractiveness to newcomers reluctant to commit to pure communal principles.

Increasing numbers of families are attracted to kibbutz living by the quality of education, environment, space and security. The kibbutz enterprises also provide thousands of job opportunities.

There were many good intentions at the meeting between Israeli tourism promoters counterparts from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, held in the Jordan Valley. According to the vision, the South Jordan area tourist infrastructure will contribute to peace and good neighborly relations.

All guests were from communities including kibbutzim in and near the Jordan Valley, on both sides of the river. The meeting was devoted to a display and update of each other's projects and programs on both sides of the border.
 The conference was also devoted to promoting cooperation and cross-border tourism in the southern Jordan Valley, and was attended by tourism promoters from accommodation and attractions in the valley. The meeting included a visit to the island of peace, including an explanation of the restoration of the historic train station in the area.

Back in 1952 Ben Gurion asked a dairy worker to get permission from his kibbutz to take up the position of Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Defense. The dairy worker was just 29 years old but Ben Gurion believed that he was important for the country. The worker approached his kibbutz and a vote was held at a general meeting whether or not to allow a kibbutz member to work outside the kibbutz. That was the way the kibbutzim operated in those days. The members of Alumot voted in favor and the dairy worker, Shimon Peres, was granted leave to serve the country as Deputy Director General of Defense. Shimon Peres was instrumental in building Israel's Defense industry including its nuclear capacity. He also served in numerous ministerial posts including that of Prime Minister. He is of course Israel's current President.

The kibbutzim formed the backbone of the country before Israel gained independence in 1948 and during the first few years after independence. There was an established infrastructure in place because of the kibbutzim and many notable persons from kibbutzim took part in the political and defense organizations as the new state came into being. The kibbutzim were also the bread basket of Israel providing a large percentage of the country's food needs. Kibbutz enterprises diversified over the years and now cover almost every type of business and account for about 8% of Israel's economy.

The Israelis - General Orna Barbivai


General Orna Barbivai is the IDF's first-ever female Major General  She is commander of the Manpower Directorate. Her rank is the IDF’s second-highest, directly reporting to  the IDF chief of general staff. General Barbivai has served in the IDF for 30 years, devoting her entire army career to the directorate.

She is the second woman to serve on the Chief of Staff’s General Staff.

General Barbivai has a Bachelor’s degree in humanities from Ben Gurion University and an MBA in Business Management from the University of Derby. She is a mother of three.

General Barbibai described the different populations serving in the IDF, and noted that “the Army consists of diverse and often polarized populations, because it a reflection of society. Nevertheless, the motivation and desire to serve and reach command and combat positions are among the highest we have ever known.”

Apart from the IDF’s military duties, General Barbibai described the processes of filling gaps in the education of recruits. “About 10-15 percent of enlistees get to complete their 12 years of education while in the military. Moreover, the entire “Makam” (Hebrew acronym for Center to Advance Special Populations) involves recruits who require support and care during their service”

Referring to Israel’s youth, Barbibai presented an optimistic position. “I firmly believe that we have quality youth, and that the education system helps our youth arrive in the army as an active and assertive population.”

According to the head of Military Human Resources, local municipalities and schools show a willingness to let the military into their classrooms.

“My impression is that there is a great desire to receive the army. After all, eventually the youth will reach recruitment age, and facilitating dialogue and discourse is good for them.”

Water for Peace

In an effort to support the possibility of achieving regional peace by beginning with cooperation on a shared natural resource, representatives of two local organizations sent US President Barack Obama a “road map” to Middle East peace that starts with water.

Because of the Palestinian Authority’s “dire need” for water, Israel’s increased water supply due to desalination and the joint need between the two to cope with untreated sewage, the issue of water could serve as a catalyst for generating a future overall peace agreement, the road map said. Encouraging an agreement on water issues could therefore only benefit both populations.

Forming such an agreement would help generate trust between two contentious groups and “give hope to both peoples that a diplomatic solution to their conflict is possible,” the authors said.

A water agreement could be the “urgently needed win-win” for the two sides by mapping out the water rights of each group, the road map said.

The accord itself would be based on principles of economic efficiency, social equality, ecological sustainability and practicality, the authors wrote. An ideal accord would mandate the creation of a Bilateral Water Commission, which would replace today’s Joint Water Committee and make decisions on delivery of shared water and removal of sewage, as well as rates of water extraction. Within the commission would be an Office of Science Advisors made up of professional staff from both sides that could provide recommendations to the larger body.

In addition to the Bilateral Water Commission would be a Water Mediation Board, which would be able to take action if the commission is unable to accept a decision drafted by the Office of Science Advisors, the authors explained. Both the commission and the board would have equal numbers of Israeli and Palestinian representatives, plus one member from outside the region, they added.

“We would have liked to see the president of the US launch the negotiations over water and invite the two sides to come to Washington,” a spokesperson said.
First and foremost, such a road map to peace has a capacity to be more productive than the Oslo agreement because it is final rather than temporary.

“It creates a precedent that we can reach a final agreement and in the process shows that there are partners to the process on both sides, and that a mechanism would be put in place that builds trust between the two parties – which is very much the missing link.”

 Health Promotion

Although the four public health funds are called “kupot holim” (“ill funds”) in Hebrew, too many of the insurers are still convinced that their most important responsibility is to treat rather than prevent illness. But Kupat Holim Meuhedet, the third largest health fund, and its director- general Prof. Asher Elhayany are now taking health promotion so seriously that its new approach promises to be a revolution in Israeli healthcare.

Meuhedet regards Haredi families, who constitute 40 percent of its Jerusalem members (and to a much lesser extent, Arab families) as a source of significant profits. The National Insurance Institute – not the health funds – covers all delivery costs in hospitals, and these families are younger and healthier on average than non-Haredim. Thus more Haredi members means higher profits for the health funds. As the predecessors of Meuhedet were founded in Jerusalem, the health fund is very strong in the capital, thus giving Meuhedet much incentive to seek out more ultra-Orthodox members.

“There are poor people in the center of the country and rich people in the north or south, in places like Kfar Vradim or Omer. There are many residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, for example, who are economically disadvantaged, but we don’t get compensation for treating their more serious medical conditions,” he said. “There never will be enough money for health systems, but we can run the health system better.”

“We are not going to wait until the customer gets ill; we will help him to follow a healthful lifestyle every day of the year. I always thought that we should do all we can to prevent people from having to go to hospitals. It can take years to be profitable, but the long run it will save.”

“In Canada, there are two provinces, Ontario and British Columbia, from which Israel can learn. Residents on average live 9.8 years longer with a high quality of life and only one year of dependency on others before they die. In Israel, residents live longer than in many other countries, but the average number of years of dependency is 10! The Canadian provinces put a lot of effort into health promotion.”

“We need to determine each member’s health identity and then carry out interventions.

Even though Meuhedet is a veteran health fund, most of its members are youngish. There are only 70,000 of pension age. In Rehovot alone, however, there are 4,200 older members.

“We screened all of them who regularly visit the clinics. We found that some are hospitalized again and again for health failure, for example. We found most didn’t follow the doctors’ orders on taking medications. We sought out volunteers from Yad Sarah who assisted them and made sure they take their medication and follow other advice.

Overweight and obesity costs the country abut NIS 10 billion a year in medical costs and disability. A recent State Comptroller report found that 44% of adults aged 18 to 64 and 69% of Israelis over 65 suffer from overweight. Encouraging exercise and teaching proper diet can reduce that figure. The health fund has also managed to get more members to get flu vaccinations in both the center of the country and the periphery. This immediately reduces the costs of treating patients who develop complications of the flu and have to be hospitalized.

“Next year, the 20th anniversary of the National Health Insurance Law will be marked. It will be time to conduct a reassessment. The government made changes that hurt implementation of the law. Out-of pocket payments by residents have grown, and state subsidization of healthcare has declined. We must think about what residents need.”

He noted that the more people agree to pay privately to get the healthcare they need, the more the Finance Ministry believes that it doesn’t have to increase public funding for health.

“But this can’t go on, and the basket of health services has to invest more in health promotion and disease prevention.”

Jewish Culture

A website dedicated to providing educational resources on Jewish culture to teachers and educators in Israel was launched this week at the residence of the British Ambassador.

Tarbut IL, the brainchild of the Posen Foundation in conjunction with the Shalom Hartman Institute, the AVI CHAI foundation and the Center for Educational Technology, was unveiled with the goal of “deepening pluralistic discourse in Israeli society in general and in the State education system in Israel in particular.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post before the event, Daniel Posen explained that there was a dearth of resources for the study and teaching of Jewish culture.

Despite this, he maintained, the demand for cultural knowledge of the Jewish people is huge.

“The culture of Judaism and the Jewish people, which is thousands of years old, is fascinating, but many people are not interested in its religious trappings,” Posen said.

“Our job is that of a service provider for those who don’t find any interest in expressing their Judaism because they’re not religious.”

The purpose of the new website therefore is to strengthen knowledge of the history and development of Jewish secular culture, improve the image and relevance of such in Israel and provide a virtual home for the discussion, teaching and study of Jewish culture.

Some of the educational fields covered by the website include Jewish ethics, social justice, models of Jewish identity and secular, traditional and religious attitudes towards the relationship between morality and religion in Judaism.

Information on Zionism and Israel-Diaspora relations as well as the various affiliations in the Jewish world can be found on the site.

Speaking more broadly about the foundation, Posen explained that large parts of the secular Israeli public are “educationally impoverished” about Judaism and the culture of their people.

“The secular majority have to find ways to bring Jewish education to themselves,” he said.

“The majority of secular Jews have never been interested in rituals, so for those who combine intellectual interest with some cultural practices this is simply another avenue to explore for people who are not interested in structured Jewish organizations.”

“The attempt here is to capture the interest of those who have never been attracted to the religious aspect of Judaism.”

 Israel Chemicals

Yair Lapid, the new Minister of Finance has expressed strong opposition to a potential merger between Israel Chemicals and a Canadian natural resource firm that has shares in the Israeli company.

Israel Chemicals, the firm responsible for the majority of mineral extraction on the Israeli side of the Dead Sea, has three categories of shareholders: Israel Corp., which owns 52.30 percent, Potash- Corp Agricultural Society Ltd. – held by Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, Canada – which holds 13.85% and members of the public and other institutions who own 33.85%.

The Canadian firm is now considering bidding for the remainder of Israel Chemicals that it does not yet possess, according to Bloomberg News. Such a move, it was stressed, could cause severe environmental implications to the Dead Sea as well as harm the region financially.

“The completion of the merger in question without finishing the process of establishing a national policy for managing natural resources would lead to the real endangerment of economic, social and environmental interests of the highest priority,”

 Also the delisting of the shares on the Stock exchange would seriously affect Israel's economic standing in the world as the company accounts for 20% of the weighted index calculation of Israel's economic stability as seen by foreign investors.

An outline of the investment plan in question indicates that such a deal could lead to a significantly increased amount of potash production by foreign parties and thereby inflict added environmental damage upon the Dead Sea region, the minister argued.

Likewise, if the Canadian firm gains a majority hold on company shares, as an international company it could transfer the bulk of production to Jordan, where labor costs are cheaper.

Such a situation could damage the livelihood of thousands of Israeli families.

“As we know, PotashCorp holds a global monopoly in potash production and can influence the prices of potash internationally against the interests of Israel by exploiting its resources.”

For decades, Israel Chemicals has been mining minerals from the Dead Sea and has caused enormous damage to its environs – decreasing the basin’s water level and harming the area’s natural ecology.

Because an expanding financial agreement with Potash- Corp could only expose Israel to further such risks, as well as social and environmental ramifications, the government must first conduct a thorough examination of the country’s potash and phosphate resources, as well as create a unified policy on natural resource management before proceeding with any merger.

An Israel Chemicals representative did not address the implications of a merger with, or acquisition by, a foreign company, but touted the company’s environmental record.

“In the last three years, [ICL] invested over a billion shekels in that field, an investment that allows it to operate according to the most stringent standards in the world and even higher,” the representative said, adding that the continuously dropping water levels in the sea were a result of Israel and its neighbors diverting 1.5 billion cubic meters of water annually for other uses.

The company reiterated the fact that it is the largest employer in the Negev and contributes NIS 12 billion to Israel’s GDP, facts that make its fate politically sensitive.

The Canadian Potash Company did not respond to requests for comment.

The Wailing Wall Battle Continues

The Rabbi of the Western Wall said he "can live with" a plan presented by Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky for a permanent egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

Sharansky briefed the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel on the plan before he left Israel to present the plan to Jewish leaders in New York.

"This re-division of the area does not match my worldview, as I believe that there should be one site of prayer according to the place's customs, but we can live with this solution the Rabbi said.

The proposal, first reported by the Forward on Tuesday and later shared by Sharansky with The New York Jewish Week, would turn an archaeological site adjacent to the main Western Wall plaza into a permanent place of egalitarian worship.

Egalitarian prayer is now allowed at the site, near Robinson's Arch, but only at specific times. Under the proposal, the plaza would be expanded to encompass the additional prayer space, which is at the southern part of the Western Wall.

In a short statement released after Tuesday's meeting, Sharansky did not divulge any details of his plan.

"One Western Wall for one Jewish people," Sharansky said. “In this way, the Kotel will once again be a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife.”

Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, who attended the meeting, refused to go into detail about Sharansky's proposal, saying it had yet to be presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for approval.

Women's prayer at the Western Wall has been a contentious issue for years. Anat Hoffman, director of the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center and head of Women of the Wall, has led a campaign aimed at permitting women to recite prayers in a women's minyan at the Kotel. Orthodox groups have vigorously opposed such an accommodation, saying it constitutes a violation of Jewish law, and Sharansky's plan likely would face stiff opposition from Orthodox groups.

Initial responses from non-Orthodox Jewish leaders mostly supported Sharansky's idea.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told The Jewish Week that the initiative represented a significant step toward “respecting and protecting the rights of non-Orthodox Jews."

Hoffman was quoted by the Forward as saying the plan was not “everything we were hoping for” but still “a dramatic change, and it will make history.”

Ireland - Academic Boycott of Israel

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has become the first educational trade union in Europe to adopt a boycott of Israeli academia.

At its annual congress, the TUI voted unanimously for an academic boycott of Israel, “including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programs.”

It also calls on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, to “step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the "Apartheid" State of Israel .

“This is an historic precedent, being the first such motion in Europe to explicitly call for an academic boycott of Israel. We congratulate the TUI and call on all Irish, British and European academic unions to move similar motions.” A spokesperson said.

He said it was “nonsense” that boycotts stifle academic principles.

“Undoubtedly apologists for Israeli "Apartheid" will complain that such motions stifle academic freedom, but this is nonsense.

The motion also instructs the executive committee of the union to conduct an awareness campaign amongst TUI members on the need for a full boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

The TUII claims that the so called Apartheid practiced by Israel is far worse than the Apartheid that was practiced in South Africa.

The truth is that there is no constitutional separation of any people or groups of people in Israel in any field. Israel is the only true democratic country in the Middle Eastern and practices integration of all people in Israel in the social ,work and education fields.

It is illegal to practice any type of racial separation or Apartheid in Israel. Anyone who even tries to practice any type of segregation or even discrimination is immediately taken to court.

There are thousands of Arabs in very senior positions in Israel's academic institutions, work places, political bodies and the Israel Defense Force.

Both Israel and Palestinian accept the two state solution, Israel for Israelis (including Arab Israelis). This does not make Israel an Apartheid state as there are in practice two separate countries which are accepted as such by the United Nations. The General Assembly of the United Nations recently approved the Palestinian State.

Also the fact that some buses carrying Palestinian workers into Israel are not allowed to pick up Israelis on the way is not Apartheid. It was done solely because some Palestinian extremists took advantage of the situation and blew themselves up next to Israeli passengers. This action was taken to protect people from suicide bombers.

The decision in Ireland is another example of the complete ignorance of people about Israel.

Air Force Technological Revolution

The Israel Air Force is in the middle of a technological revolution that is creating a digital network in the skies, a senior IAF source said.

As the Middle East continues to be afflicted by instability, radical terrorist organizations grow on Israel’s borders and Iran moves forward in its nuclear program, these new technologies could prove decisive to the outcome of future developments.

In the past, IAF aircraft dropped munitions on targets and returned to their bases, relying on radio communications and traditional sensors. Today, however, the jets and helicopters exchange data with a host of sources, from other aircraft flying with them, to ground forces, the Navy and intelligence services, and all in real time.

“We can communicate directly with other platforms... This acts as a force multiplier,” the source said.

“Plane A can tell Plane B what it is seeing in flight, and report all of this back [to IAF headquarters or airbases],” he added.

“It’s like a pack of leopards on a hunt. They work together in a network, not as individuals.”

Israel relies on the IAF as its primary response force to national security threats.

“The strategic challenges facing Israel are enormous, and continue to form the most complex obstacle for Israel,” the source said. Due to its ability to operate anywhere, as well as its accuracy, versatility and firepower, the IAF remains the best-suited force to respond, he added.

The trend toward network centric warfare is being driven by the air force’s Information Communications Technology branch. This shift is also the main reason that Israel chose the F35i to become its next fighter jet.

“The F35i was chosen not because it is the fastest or because it can carry the most munitions, but because of its network capabilities,” the source explained.

“All of the information is available to it. It knows what threatens it, its current situation, and the status of fellow aircraft. It is a network entity,” he added.

But the Air Force hasn’t been waiting for the F-35i’s arrival to construct its own network. Rather, it has spent the last decade installing these technologies on current aircraft, meaning that today, combat helicopters and squadrons of F-15s and F-16s are integrated with the rest of the military.

As a result, the source said, so much information is available that it is a challenge not to overload the pilot. “He should get the information he needs, when he needs it, where he needs it,” the source said.

Computers on-board the aircraft, together with ground stations, process the information for the pilot during the sorties.

“The network adds a layer… we’re sending and receiving data because the operational need dictates this,” the source said.

Peak hour drivers to pay higher tax

The Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transport are to publish a tender for a smart meter, which may be installed in all vehicles in Israel. The purpose of the tender is to develop a monitor that can guarantee the user's privacy as far as driving habits are concerned.

The ministries are considering replacing the current tax system, which levies a uniform tax on new cars and on fuel, with differential taxation based on the driver's travel patterns.

For example, drivers who use their cars during peak hours in metropolitan Tel Aviv will be charged a higher amount of tax at the end of the month than drivers who use their cars during off-peak hours in the periphery. The new tax method is intended to reduce traffic congestion, save work hours, and reduce government spending on transportation projects.

A month ago, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport initiated a pilot, Going Green, to test the new method. Several hundred participants, out of the 1,200 participants needed for the assessment, have already signed up. During the two-year pilot, each participant will receive up to NIS 25 for each trip not taken. Changing driving habits will enable the participants to save up to NIS 10,000 over 18 months. To test the change in driving habits, each car will have a meter installed to monitor driving patterns. There pilot's organizers will provide a contractual commitment that the data will not be transferred to third parties.

However, a transportation planning source admits that "without a full solution to the privacy problem, we cannot even think about implementing the new tax method." He added, "We want a system which will not notify Big Brother about where a vehicle is located, but in which the device will make the calculations, and allow the car owner to delete data after use."

The sources noted however that protecting the privacy of travel patterns was becoming irrelevant in view of the progress in web-based location systems and software such as Waze.

The tender for developing the system is in the preparation stage. Sources involved in preparing the tender predict that it will be published within two months, and that a prototype will be developed within a year. No decision has yet been made about the options for financing the product's development, or what rights the developers will have.