November CPI surprises with 0.5% fall
Israel's consumer price index showed a sharp drop of 0.5% in November.
The CPI's decline was mostly affected by the drop in prices of fresh vegetables, vehicles' fuel and oil additives and housing services, which together contributed to a 0.4%.
Hikes were recorded in the prices of bread, milk, clothing and car insurance. The prices of tomatoes were reduced by 23.4% after a significant price increase in recent months.
Among the fresh vegetables, the following recorded sharp price reductions: Cabbage (40.2%), tomatoes (23.4%), peppers (20%), beets (19.9%), zucchini (11.3%), eggplant (10.1%), fennel (5.7%), radish (5.7%), squash (4.5%), potatoes (4.4%), lettuce (3.1%) and carrot (2.4).
The price of onion, on the other hand, rose 6.3%, and the price of fresh mushrooms went up 1.6%. In total, fresh vegetable prices were reduced by 12.8%.
The prices of the following fruits were significantly reduced: Kiwi (28.6%), bananas (23.2%), avocado (21%), persimmon (14.4%), melon (11.7%), oranges (10.6%), lemons (10.4%), grapefruit (9.6%), tangerines (3.8%) and apples (2.2%).
The prices of some fruits increased, including grapes (16.9%), plums (7.3%), mango (4.6%) and pears (1.3%).
The following products recorded significant price hikes: Halva (7.8%), sausages (7.3%), frozen dough and pastries (4.5%), margarine (4.3%), eggs (3.6%), special bread (3.1%), vinegar, mustard and dressing (3.1%), mayonnaise (2.8%), cookies and biscuits (2.5%), noodles and spaghetti (2.3%) and frozen poultry (2.3%).
The prices of cake and baking products went up by 2.3%, soft drink prices rose 2.1%, cereal – 1.9%, wine – 1.9%, buns and bagels – 1.8%, salty snacks – 1.8%, soft white cheese – 1.8%, hard cheese – 1.8%, white flour – 1.6%, challah – 1.3%, minced meat – 1.2%, and fresh poultry – 1%.
The prices of turkey and chicken breast went down by 3.5%; fish prices dropped 2.6%, soup powder – 2.3%, chocolate – 1.5%, and Turkish coffee – 1.4%.
In the housing market, rent prices increased by 0.1% and the cost of building index rose by 0.3%. Since the beginning of the year, the cost of building index has gone up by 3.2%.
The clothing and footwear index rose 3.7%. The prices of women's shoes went up by 1.5%, while the prices of men's shoes increased by 1.3%.
Products and services which recorded significant price reductions include vehicles' fuel and oil additives (4.3%), trips abroad (2.6%), cellular phone services (2.4%) and transport services (1.4%).
Since the beginning of 2012, the consumer price index has increased by 1.4%.
Several New Hotels Planned in Haifa
The northern Israeli city is experiencing a construction boom with as many as 40 hotel projects in the planning, approval or building stages.
Most projects are for boutique hotels.
An average 85% occupancy rate is prompting the entrepreneurs and authorities to develop the hotel industry at a record pace. After a 7% increase in tourism over the past year, the municipality seeks to turn Haifa into northern Israel's tourist center, from which travelers will embark on day trips to Akko, Nazareth, Tiberias and the Galilee.
About a year ago, the Tourism Ministry extended the city's status as Development Area A, promising investors a 24% grant for the establishment of hotels – including renovation – and tourist attractions.
Haifa currently has 1,500 hotel rooms. About 70% of its tourism is incoming tourism, and 50% of tourists are business people. Some 1,000 conferences were held in the city in 2011, in addition to 520 one-day meetings. Some were held in hotels and some at the large congress center at the entrance to the city.
"We have also founded a municipal guesthouse company offering 150 rooms," says Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, "and we import festivals and create our own events."
The most ambitious plan is opening the port to the city, like in Barcelona, which the municipality believes will help Haifa compete with the Mediterranean Basin's splendid Riviera.
The plans include the development of a park on the border of the Kishon River. The refineries' cooling towers will be turned into a visitor center, and bridges will lead from the port to the city. Massive renovations are underway in Haifa's lower town, in the Turkish market and in Paris Square, which will become the city's business center.
Attracting International Investors to Israel
Many large global companies are looking for innovation, a partner in whom they can invest and with whom they can cooperate. Israel is one of the global centers that attract large companies and investors, and Invest in Israel is the agency that makes these connections.
Among other factors, thanks to the agency’s work, Israel reached $11 billion in international direct investments in 2011.
The investment promotion center at the Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor, led by Oded Distel, is the government agency responsible for attracting new international investors and providing them with support. The agency locates potential investors, facilitates their visits to Israel and provides them with assistance and direction in any way needed.
The staff of the center works closely with the Ministry's economic attaches in order to identify international companies that are looking for a specific technology, an investment opportunity or a place to open an R&D center. At the same time, Invest in Israel identifies what Israel can offer to the world, and in this way, international investors are approached. This is how many doors are opened for Israeli industry.
Quite a bit of work is done in order to present Israeli innovation to the world. “We brand the State of Israel in a business sense as an origin of innovation and an investment destination.”
Distel described the process of bringing an international investor to Israel and marketing Israeli industry around the world.
"The process is long and demands a lot of concentration and daring from the international investor. As opposed to selling a product, investments demand higher levels of risk and dedication. We deal with some people who have never been to Israel and have outdated and irrelevant ideas about Israel."
Today, at least 260 R&D centers of international companies are located in Israel including multinationals such as IBM, Microsoft, Google, Intel and others. Thanks to foreign investments in the Israeli market, many jobs have been created along with a better managerial and business culture.
"Investments add a new dimension to Israel's employment opportunities and bring the global market closer to Israel," says the center's director.
In the contemporary world, which makes greater use of the digital space, there is growing probability that a young company could be successful on a global scale. Such tools are of great use to Israeli industry, which is known for high levels of innovation and creativity, on the one hand, and by a certain distance from the global market, on the other.
According to Invest in Israel, most of the companies active in Israel are from the US and a few are from Europe. It is likely that in the near future we will see many European and Asian companies opening subsidiaries in Israel and providing jobs for Israelis.
"More and more global companies recognize the fact that Israel is a source of innovation and technological breakthroughs," explains Distel.
The inclination is to create joint ventures that will take full advantage of the abilities and advantages of each of the partners and will serve the needs of both sides, including the national interest of the State of Israel.
"In the last two years, we have seen greater levels of interest from Chinese investors," said a spokesperson. "This is also true for European companies currently under pressure because their usual local markets are having trouble, and their main competitors are from Asia. Major players in the international market agree that in order to survive and move forward, innovation is necessary – and it can be found here, with us.”
"One of the ways of surviving in the market abroad is to do so through a merger with an international company that is looking for technological innovation, an effective and targeted solution that the Israeli company can provide. The international company affords the Israeli company accessibility and a chance to break into the market. Such investments are strategic and they create mutual benefit."
Israel has received approval to participate in NATO activities in 2013 that had been held up amid tensions with Turkey. The approval had come as Turkey’s request that NATO station Patriot missile batteries along its border with Syria was granted, leading them to assess that NATO was using the deployment as leverage to induce Ankara to thaw its relations with Israel.
Turkey, a full NATO member, has been opposed to increasing Israel’s participation within the military alliance as ties between the two countries deteriorated, according to NATO officials.
Israel is not a NATO member but is a partner and has accordingly participated in seminars, exercises and training as part of that status. But over the course of the past year, as new NATO activities were planned for cooperating countries such as Israel, Turkey objected to their going forward.
NATO is a consensus-based organization where any one of its 28 full members can veto a proposal, though often opposition is conveyed through informal channels.
However, as Turkey’s request for the Patriot systems was approved by NATO and deployment began, a NATO work plan for 2013 that would include Israeli participation in a range of courses and conferences went through.
Despite a slight easing of opposition to certain types of Israeli participation in NATO, Israel doesn’t see Turkey as having changed its overall policy toward the Jewish state. Israel hopes to establish closer ties with NATO, but Jerusalem still believes Turkey would continue to block such upgrades in its status.
The once close Turkish- Israeli relationship, which began to strain after the Islamist AKP Party took power in Ankara. NATO officials have been pushing for reconciliation between the two important Mediterranean nations for the benefit of the alliance.
“We have a lot of common interests with Israel,” said another NATO official, pointing to the country’s expertise in counterterrorism, cyber security, missile defense and more. Yet as “Turkey has made no secret” of its opposition to upgrading Israeli involvement after the break between the two countries, he said the issue ultimately needs to be resolved at the country to country level.
Israel’s approval for participation in the 2013 work plan and other traditional NATO activities was “an extremely positive sign” of an improvement in Israel’s position.
However Turkey and Israel would have to fix their relationship in a bilateral rather than multilateral framework.
Prize for Helping Preserve Hebrew
The Hebrew Writers Association awarded the Golden Inkwell Word prize to Kadima MK Akram Hasson, for his contribution to preserving the Hebrew language.
Hasson, who is Druze and served as mayor of Daliat al-Carmel, is the first non Jew to receive a prize of this kind.
“I see myself as an Israeli for all intents and purposes,” Hasson said. “Israeli society must be one family, free from racism or bigotry. We need everyone to be equal.”
The Hebrew Writers Association in Israel was established in 1921 in Tel Aviv, with Nahum Sokolow as its honorary president. Ahad Ha’am and Haim Nahman Bialik also served as honorary presidents of the association, which today represents 450 writers, poets, directors and playwrights.
Hasson saw himself as an emissary of the association within the Knesset and worked tirelessly on its behalf.
“It’s a great honor for me to receive this prize. It’s a great feeling,” he said.
The Kadima MK worked to promote a bill on the preservation of the Hebrew language, which includes ensuring that all signage in Israel is first and foremost in Hebrew. The bill further stipulates that all speeches that take place overseas be conducted in Hebrew.
“This is our national language,” he said. “How come representatives from other countries speak in Italian and Spanish, with simultaneous translation, and we don’t? We don’t need to be embarrassed about our language. You hear kids today who are putting English words all the time into their speech. The language is losing its prestige.”
Hasson, largely with the help of his aide Marina Naomi Smolyanov (who also received a prize), managed to prevent the association from closing when bureaucratic problems arose relating to its budget.
A member of the association commented that Hasson “carries a torch in his struggle to preserve the purity of the Hebrew language.”
Gifted Druze students Get Head Start
President Peres presided over the launch of Technion's Sparks program.
The project is the brainchild of the president’s military aide, Brigadier-General Hasson, and is conducted under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Education Ministry, Haifa’s Technion- Israel Institute of Technology and Atidim, an organization that promotes education and encourages the pursuit of excellence. It currently enables 200 Druze high school students, who have obtained top grades at school and who have an orientation toward science and technology, to take special courses at the Technion where they are exposed to academia, and stretch the limits of their potential in any scientific or technological field.
General Hasson is the first Druze Arab to serve as a military aide to a president of the state, though his father-in-law Kamal Mansour has for more than four decades been the adviser on minorities to a series of presidents from Zalman Shazar to Shimon Peres.
At the mention of Hasson’s name, the crowd beamed and applauded.
Peres joked that on military matters, Hasson is his subordinate, but on civilian matters he is Hasson’s subordinate, especially when it comes to education. “I’m a very good educational aide-de-camp,” he said.
Peres paid tribute to Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar who he said had succeeded in achieving the impossible. No one in Israel seriously believed that anything could be done to improve standards of education, said Peres, but Sa’ar had managed to persuade the OECD to get Israel to commit itself to upgrading its education, and the outcome has been remarkable.
Sa’ar said that there had been improvement across the board, but no sector of the population had improved to the same extent as Druze students, who appeared to be highly motivated. The project was directed not only at Druze, but at gifted students in all peripheral communities, said Sa’ar, adding that the intention was to keep broadening its scope. For instance in February, 160 seventh-graders will join the program.
Sheikh Muafek Tarif, the spiritual head of the Druze Arab community, praised both Peres and Sa’ar as being men of great vision, as well as everyone else connected with bringing the project to fruition and thereby opening new horizons for Druze students so that they can attain higher education and enter into professions in which they can make a worthwhile contribution to the state.
Within the Druze community, he said, there was consensus among religious and secular factions that education must be given the top priority.
He assured students that they would have the full-hearted backing of the community.
Israeli flowers meant for Europe left unpicked
Thirty million flowers that were supposed to reach the European market in time for Christmas remained in Israel due to a shortage of workers to harvest the plants, Israel’s Flower Growers Association announced.
The failure to transfer all the expected flower supplies to Europe is causing Israel to continue to lose its place in the European market – a sector that the country once dominated, the association complained.
While Kenya and Ethiopia have been occupying chunks of the market for some time now, a brand new competitor entered this holiday season: Costa Rica. The Central American nation, which formerly limited its flower sales largely to US markets, was able to provide the European sector with green ornamental branches for Christmas that were once considered an Israeli specialty, the association said.
Israeli farmers are now unable to maintain their traditional markets when the government “binds their hands behind their backs and devotedly maintains a chronic shortage of workers,” according to Haim Hadad, secretary-general of Israel’s Flower Growers Association.
While Israel’s farmers have been promised by the government to have 25,000 foreign workers available, the association claims that in reality there only about 20,000. The result, the association said, is that while competitors enjoy an endless supply of low-cost workers, the Israeli flower growers must operate without a crucial portion of their work force and with unnecessary and inflated tax payments on those who do work.
“It is absurd that during a period in which we hear about a drop in state revenues and a tremendous deficit that will cause cuts to the public,” Hadad said, “the prime minister, ministers and officials deliberately harm manufacturers and exporters who request nothing but the workers that are authorized to them, in order to increase state revenues.”
The labor shortage hits particularly hard during peak periods when the need for flowers is high, the organization stressed. With the end of Christmas, the Flower Growers Association found that 15 percent of the Israeli flowers slated to go to Europe (30 million out of 200 million) remained in the country because there were not enough workers to pick and pack them. Now, the farmers will have to send the flowers during a period of much slower demand, receiving lower prices for the plants, according to Hadad.
“I fully understand customers in Europe that are discouraged by us and prefer to turn to other countries from which they have a guaranteed, reliable delivery, even though they are farther than us from the market,” Hadad added.
“Now the damage already done will be very hard to repair in the future because all the shelf space has been taken from us and will not be returned easily, and may be lost forever.”
Fewer doctors, nurses and dentists in workforce
The Health Ministry’s annual report showed a decrease of working professionals in most vital fields, from nurses and doctors to dentists and dental technicians – rates that are significantly lower than that of most Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
Regarding nurses, the rate of nursing school graduates is low, according to the report – just 12.1 per 100,000 residents, compared to the OECD average of 34.4. The rate of working nurses up to the age of 65 dropped to 5.95 per 100,000 last year, compared to 6.47 at the end of 2000 – an 8 percent decrease.
Additionally, the number of new nurses in 2011 was only 941 compared to twice as many, 1,863, in 2002. Another sign of decline in manpower was that the share of nurses up to the age of 45 went down to 41% last year, compared to 53% in 2000. Nursing is the most common type of medical profession in the country.
The rate of physicians also declined, but it was higher than the OECD average, with the number of doctors up to the age of 65 given as 3.33 per 1,000 residents at the end of 2011, compared to 3.71 a decade before. The number of Israeli physicians has consistently declined since doctors from the former Soviet Union who immigrated in the 1990s began to retire. As a result, more new medical school graduates here studied in Israel compared to previous years of high immigration.
There were 35,000 doctors in the workforce last year, but only 26,000 were under the age of 65. About half of medical licenses are held by women, compared to a third in the 1980s. Women constitute a majority in the fields of family medicine, endocrinology, oncology, medical genetics, pediatric hematology, diagnostic radiology and anatomy.
More than a quarter of obstetricians/ gynecologists are women – significantly more than a decade or two ago. But women constitute only 6% of neurosurgeons, 5% of orthopedic surgeons and 1% of cardiothoracic surgeons.
Israeli doctors are older than their counterparts in the OECD. The rates of women doctors and of medical specialists (as opposed to general practitioners) showed an upward trend. Almost 60% of Israeli medical specialists were in internal medicine, pediatrics, ob/gyn, family medicine and psychiatry.
The rate of Israeli dentists declined during the past decade, but it remains higher than the OECD average, with 1.05 dentists under age 65 per 1,000 people at the end of last year, compared to 1.12 in 2000.
About one-third are women, 25% graduates of Israeli dental schools and the rest from Europe, the Americas, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.
There are only 0.47 dental technicians of working age per 1,000 Israelis, compared to 0.52 in 2000; the number of pharmacist assistants has also declined.
However, the numbers of psychologists, pharmacists, optometrists, physiotherapists and dietitians have increased over the past decade in Israel.
Women now constitute 75% of all psychologists – a major demographic shift over the last few decades.
Approval of 'net meter' system for 2013
The Public Utility Authority plenary committee officially approved on Wednesday the “net meter” system for 2013, which will allow private homes in Israel to produce and use their own renewable energy, rather than feeding that electricity into the national grid.
The new system, according to the PUA, is suited for both domestic consumers with low power consumption as well as larger consumers, and will dismiss the bureaucratic process of today that currently impedes the growth of at-home solar installations.
With this decision, Israel will join the US and many European nations in allowing its citizens to privately produce and make use of their own renewable energy, the PUA said. While the authority had granted initial approvals to the project in October, the program has now received complete authorization and will be underway in the new year.
Using their net meters, the consumers will be able to deduct the amount of electricity they produce for self-consumption, balancing out the surplus they generate against the overdraft of their consumption from the grid. By constantly having access to information such as load on the national network, the customers will be able to use the net meter to decide when to produce electricity independently for their own homes, and when to abstain.
Overall, this very large project will amount to a consumption system of over 400 megawatts, the PUA said. The country is now able to go ahead with the system in large part due to the significant drop in construction costs for solar power generation equipment, allowing for a renewable energy sector that relies much less heavily on government subsidies, the authority added.
Meanwhile, the PUA said it has been able to minimize the regulatory process required to install such a system, which operates quite simply and does not require residents to acquire a production license.
“This is the first step in realizing the government’s decision toward the future promotion of renewable energy in the State of Israel,” a PUA statement said.
Iran Imprisons Pastor on Christmas Day
Iran’s government again arrested Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
Nadarkhani had served nearly three years in prison for practicing Christianity and rejecting the compulsory Islamic education for his two young children.
The pastor converted from Islam to Christianity as a teenager.
The Arabs kicked out the Jews from Muslim-majority countries in the region and are now kicking out the Christians.
He described the persecution of Christians as “catastrophic for the world and the Middle East.”
The West should be working to protect Christians.
Taking the Pastor into custody on Christmas Day is a sobering reminder that fear, harassment and intimidation are the regime’s principal tools in its dealings with Iranian Christians. And so we enter 2013 with both Nadarkhani and Dadkhah, his lawyer, behind bars.”
Iran’s flagrant disregard for international law by imprisoning this Christian for a second time for his faith did not occur coincidentally on Christmas Day. Iran is increasingly persecuting Christians and anyone who is willing to defend them.
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