Why Jewish and Arab cofounders are good for business

Israel’s high-tech sector is the bright spot in the country’s economy, but it isn’t very diverse. At many up-and-coming startups you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Haredi employee, or anyone over 40, or an Arab citizen of the country. Women, too, are in the distinct minority, as are Israelis who grew up with less than middle-class privilege.

According to Forsan Hussein and Ami Dror, cofounders of Zaitoun Ventures, a one-and-a-half-year-old hybrid investment firm, this lack of diversity is actually a distinct disadvantage, because it leads to groupthink.

“Corporate studies show that diversity is beneficial to a company,” says Hussein. “We all know that Israel is one of the most diverse countries in the world, yet our diversity has not been converted into a competitive advantage — if anything it has been a source of suspicion and division.”

That’s why Hussein and Dror, a Muslim and Jewish Israeli, build and invest in companies either cofounded by Jews and Arabs, or where the human capital is as diverse as possible. They also favor companies that benefit the world in some way. Zaitoun Ventures invested close to $19 million in its first year of existence, and is poised to invest about $100 million in 2016. The pair describe their investors as a “billionaire’s club” of household-name Chinese, Americans and Europeans.

“With every company we invest in,” explains Dror, “we require the CEO to lead a diversification process. Within three years from the moment of investing, we want them to get to 30-percent diversification in human capital. This means hiring Arabs, Haredim, Ethiopians, but also women.”

Not that Zaitoun Ventures is a nonprofit. “The first thing our investors want is to make a good investment and make as much money as they can,” says Dror. “Every day when we wake up, that’s what we want as well.”

Zaitoun’s portfolio

The companies that Zaitoun has either invested in or incubated include:

Myndlift — an app that uses brain-computer interface to help ADHD sufferers train themselves to concentrate. It was founded by two Arab Israeli friends from Baqa al-Gharbiya when they were just 19.

Sidis Labs — a company that has developed a wearable device that alleviates motion sickness.

Ninispeech — an app that helps people conquer stuttering.

Comedy Break — a startup co-owned by Omri Marcus — a former writer for the Israeli comedy show “Eretz Nehederet” — and a Palestinian software company in Ramallah. It uses facial detection to determine your taste in comedy and gives you more of what you will like.

Teramount — a nanotechnology fiber-optic firm cofounded by two Hebrew University graduates — one Muslim; and the other Jewish.

Galaprompter — an app that lets you watch opera or a live show in your own language.

IceCure — an FDA-approved medical device that kills breast tumors by freezing them.

The China connection

Hussein and Dror say that about half their investors are European and American, while the other half are Chinese. But in terms of dollar amounts, their investments are 90 percent Chinese.

“We meet dozens of Chinese millionaires and billionaires who ask us to please help them invest in Israel,” says Hussein.

When asked why the interest in Israel, Hussein responds, “They believe that Israel has the brainpower of no other country in the world, specifically Jewish Israelis. They believe Jews are the smartest people in the world, and also the best money managers.”

Forsan Hussein (Facebook)

Asked if he accepts this assessment, Hussein replies, “I agree with it. No one can take that away from Israeli innovation. The ability to be so creative and innovative is the story of Israel in many ways.”

Dror adds that the Chinese are in the process of transforming their economy from one based on manufacturing to one based on innovation. Zaitoun also trains Israeli entrepreneurs on how to enter the Chinese market.

But while Chinese innovators want to make money, many are interested in the Israeli-Palestinian story and promoting coexistence.

“Our investors have made a lot of money in the last 20 years. It’s not enough for them to invest it, they also want to do good,” says Dror.

Israeli success stories

Dror, 42, and Hussein, 38, are both Israeli Horatio Alger stories, boys from underprivileged backgrounds whose gumption, talent and hard work paid off. As the two confidently order drinks in a Tel Aviv café frequented by the glitterati, you would never guess that Dror grew up in a family of little means in Ashkelon, the son of a Holocaust survivor, while Hussein grew up poor in the Israeli Arab village of Sha’ab.

In 2005, Dror, who had studied computer engineering, cofounded XPAND 3D and grew it into a multibillion-dollar company. Hussein worked in construction until he landed a scholarship to Brandeis, then Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and later Harvard Business School, followed by gigs as an investment consultant for Capital Group and CEO of Jerusalem’s YMCA and Three Arches Company.

The two met through a mutual friend and now spend so much time together that they jokingly describe themselves as “married.”

Ami Dror (Facebook)

Dror says that Zaitoun Ventures has enough investors, and that the reason they wanted to be interviewed is to show that “in this sea of negativity people see all around them, there are also seeds of things that are positive.”

Dror says he and Hussein frequently travel to Palestinian-controlled areas, where they outsource a lot of their software development. Palestinian coders cost the same as those in India, but in Dror’s opinion they are better overall and more questioning in their approach. They’re also in the same time zone and can meet face-to-face when necessary.

“When Palestinian kids see us together they say, ‘What are you doing?’ And then they say, ‘OK, this is something I’ve never seen before.’”

“What a story, if an Arab or Palestinian company were to make an exit,” adds Hussein. “Instead of kids being filled with hatred, fear and ignorance and wanting to dedicate their lives to martyrdom, what if they wanted to be geniuses?”

“We understood that this region needs hope,” explains Dror. “We benefit financially, and our companies benefit financially. But the people who hear about what we’re doing, benefit in that we’ve created hope. We’d like to see more companies like us. We’d like to see North Koreans and South Koreans building companies together… Sunnis and Shiites.”

But Dror insists Zaitoun Ventures is not in the business of peace. Rather, it is in the business of good business.

“When I have a group of Palestinians working with a group of Israelis, it warms my heart, especially because I am making money.”

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Fugitive rabbi threatens life of South African chief rabbi

An on-the-run rabbi wanted in Israel for sex offenses has threatened South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein with death under Talmudic law after police raided his hideout.

Followers of Rabbi Eliezer Berland made the threats on his website in his name following a police raid on his hotel room in Samrand, north of Johannesburg, where he had been staying for several months, the Johannesburg Sunday Times reported.

Berland’s followers accused Goldstein of alerting police to his location, and claimed that he should be put to death.

According to the Talmudic din rodef, or the “law of the pursuer,” extra-judicial killing is permitted against “one who pursues his fellow to kill him.” In this case, the accusations that Goldstein informed police were interpreted by Berland’s followers to mean that he was seeking their mentor’s death.

South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein speaks at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, December 10, 2013.  (Screenshot/Channel 2)

The raid was carried out 10 days ago by South African police at the request of Interpol; Berland escaped and avoided arrest.

Berland, of the Breslov Hassidic dynasty, and founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary, fled Israel to Morocco in 2012 amid allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, one of the leaders of the Breslov hassidic movement, participant in a mass prayer at the Western Wall, Jerusalem. Jan. 25, 2012. (Uri Lenz/FLASH90)

Since then he has been spotted in Zimbabwe, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and South Africa, accompanied by a group of devout followers numbering around 40 families.

It was the third time South African police have attempted, and failed, to arrest Berland — once he escaped after a high-speed car chase.

While Goldstein, the South African chief rabbi, has yet to respond, a wide spectrum of Jewish groups in the country condemned Berland.

“The South African Jewish community calls on Rabbi Eliezer Berland to return to Israel immediately to face the serious criminal charges laid against him and for which there is an international warrant of arrest against him,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“We further condemn the baseless malicious lies and incitement to violence aimed at our chief rabbi, including the libelous accusation that the chief rabbi was responsible for the police raid on Berland’s compound,” the statement said.

Israel has requested Berland’s extradition from several countries but has so far been unsuccessful.

When last arrested in the Netherlands, Berland denied the allegations against him and fought his extradition on the grounds that the alleged assaults took place in the West Bank and Israel does not have jurisdiction there. He escaped to South Africa after he was freed on bail.

State Department declares 22 Clinton emails ‘top secret’

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has confirmed for the first time that Hillary Clinton’s home server contained closely guarded government secrets, censoring 22 emails that contained material requiring one of the highest levels of classification. The revelation came three days before the former secretary of state and current Democratic presidential candidate competes in the Iowa caucuses.

State Department officials also said the agency’s Diplomatic Security and Intelligence and Research bureaus are investigating if any of the information was classified at the time of transmission, going to the heart of Clinton’s defense of her email practices.

The department on Friday evening published its latest batch of emails from her time as America’s top diplomat.

But The Associated Press learned ahead of the release that seven email chains would be withheld in full for containing “top secret” information. The 37 pages include messages a key intelligence official recently said concerned “special access programs” —highly restricted, classified material that could point to confidential sources or clandestine programs like drone strikes.

“The documents are being upgraded at the request of the intelligence community because they contain a category of top secret information,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told the AP, calling the withholding of documents in full “not unusual.” That means they won’t be published online with others being released, even with blacked-out boxes.

Department officials wouldn’t describe the substance of the emails, or say if Clinton sent any herself.

US State Department Spokesman John Kirby. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Clinton insists she never sent or received information on her personal email account that was classified at the time. No emails released so far were marked classified, but reviewers previously designated more than 1,000 messages at lower classification levels. Friday’s will be the first at top secret level.

Even if Clinton didn’t write or forward the messages, she still would have been required to report any classification slippages she recognized in emails she received. But without classification markings, that may have been difficult, especially if the information was publicly available.

“We firmly oppose the complete blocking of the release of these emails,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brain Fallon said. “Since first providing her emails to the State Department more than one year ago, Hillary Clinton has urged that they be made available to the public. We feel no differently today.”

Fallon accused the “loudest and leakiest participants” in a process of bureaucratic infighting for withholding the exchanges. The documents, he said, originated in the State Department’s unclassified system before they ever reached Clinton, and “in at least one case, the emails appear to involve information from a published news article.”

“This appears to be overclassification run amok,” Fallon said.

Kirby said the State Department was focused, as part of a Freedom of Information Act review of Clinton’s emails, on “whether they need to be classified today.” Past classification questions, he said, “are being, and will be, handled separately by the State Department.” It is the first indication of such a probe.

Department responses for classification infractions could include counseling, warnings or other action, officials said. They wouldn’t say if Clinton or senior aides who’ve since left government could face penalties. The officials weren’t authorized to speak on the matter and demanded anonymity.

Separately, Kirby said the department withheld eight email chains, totaling 18 messages, between President Barack Obama and Clinton. These are remaining confidential “to protect the president’s ability to receive unvarnished advice and counsel,” and will be released eventually like other presidential records.

The emails have been a Clinton campaign issue since 10 months ago, when the AP discovered her exclusive use while in office of a homebrew email server in the basement of her family’s New York home. Doing so wasn’t expressly forbidden. Clinton first called the decision a matter of convenience, then a mistake.

Last March, Clinton and the State Department said no business conducted in the emails included top-secret matters. Both said her account was never hacked or compromised, which security experts assess as unlikely.

In this Dec. 22, 2015 photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a town hall meeting at Keota High School in Keota, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Clinton and the State Department also claimed the vast majority of her emails were preserved properly for archiving because she corresponded mainly with government accounts. They’ve backtracked from that claim in recent months.

The special access programs emails surfaced last week, when Charles I. McCullough, lead auditor for U.S. intelligence agencies, told Congress he found some in Clinton’s account.

Kirby confirmed the “denied-in-full emails” are among those McCullough recently cited. He said one was among those McCullough identified last summer as possibly containing top secret information.

The AP reported last August that one focused on a forwarded news article about the CIA’s classified U.S. drone program. Such operations are widely discussed publicly, including by top U.S. officials, and State Department officials debated McCullough’s claim. The other concerned North Korean nuclear weapons programs, according to officials.

At the time, several officials from different agencies suggested the disagreement over the drone emails reflected a tendency to overclassify material, and a lack of consistent classification policies across government.

The FBI also is looking into Clinton’s email setup, but has said nothing about the nature of its probe. Independent experts say it’s unlikely Clinton will be charged with wrongdoing, based on details that have surfaced so far and the lack of indications she intended to break laws.

“What I would hope comes out of all of this is a bit of humility” and Clinton’s acknowledgement that “I made some serious mistakes,” said Bradley Moss, a Washington lawyer specializing in security clearance matters.

Legal questions aside, it’s the potential political costs that probably more concern Clinton. She has struggled in surveys measuring perceived trustworthiness and any investigation, buoyed by evidence of top secret material coursing through her account, could negate a main selling point for her becoming commander in chief: her national security resume.

Bernie Sanders (Zionist Jew): Democratic socialist calling for ‘political revolution’

NEW YORK (AFP) — Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential hopeful beating Hillary Clinton in the Iowa polls, is the country’s longest serving independent Congressman, and is calling for a political revolution in America.

An outsider like Donald Trump, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum, the 74-year-old Democratic socialist may be the oldest contender in the White House race but he has done the most to inspire passionate support among young liberals.

Outwardly serious — even friends call him grumpy — the senator from Vermont has spent a lifetime in public office addressing income inequality and fumes that the top 0.1 percent of Americans own as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

Bernie, as he is known to fans, calls inequality the great moral, economic and political issue of the times, and demands campaign finance reform that would prevent billionaires from spending unlimited funds in propelling their candidates to the White House.

He has drawn thousands to his rallies, winning endorsements from Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which concocted a new flavor, “Bernie’s Yearning” — mint covered in a thick chocolate — in his honor.

“We are touching a nerve with the American people who understand that establishment politics is just not good enough. We need bold changes, we need a political revolution,” he said during a CNN townhall debate in Iowa on Monday.

Written off by his opponents as a wacky socialist, Sanders admits to being taken aback by the extent to which his message has resonated in a Democratic race where Hillary Clinton is expected to win the nomination.

He has run a progressive campaign calling for universal health care coverage, a $15 minimum wage, reining in Wall Street, free tuition at public universities, taxing the wealthy and pulling 27 million Americans out of poverty.

The big question, as with Trump, is whether Sanders can transform his popularity among people who generally do not vote into turnout on Monday.

Struggled for money

Born in Brooklyn, New York on September 8, 1941 and brought up in a hard-working Jewish family that could never afford to move out of their small apartment, he has spoken of knowing first hand the struggle for money.

His father was a Polish immigrant whose family was wiped out in the Holocaust. He attended James Madison High School and Brooklyn College, before transferring to the University of Chicago.

As a student, he became involved in the civil rights movement and took part in the march on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

After graduating, Sanders worked on an Israeli kibbutz and moved to Vermont where he worked as a carpenter and filmmaker.

In 1981, he was elected mayor of Burlington, the state’s largest city, by a mere 10-vote victory and went on to win another three terms.

Under his administration, the city made strides in affordable housing, progressive taxation, environmental protection, child care and women’s rights.

In 1990, he was elected to the House of Representatives as an independent for Vermont, taking his fight against inequality to Congress.

After 16 years in the House, he was elected to the Senate and is serving his second term after winning re-election in 2012 with 71 percent of the vote.

Integrity

In 2014, he worked with Republican Senator John McCain to pass legislation to make it easier for veterans to get medical care, beating the partisan gridlock that has paralyzed much of Washington life in recent years.

He registered as a Democrat last year and announced his presidential run.

Sanders has steadfastly refused to wage personal attacks on Clinton, including over the email scandal that dogged her stint as secretary of state.

“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” he said during a televised debate in October, while acknowledging it was not good politics to let Hillary off the hook.

In the end, his outburst hogged the headlines, earning him plaudits for his integrity.

It is a message lapped up by Democrats disillusioned with the Clintons and Americans asking why they work so hard and yet lag so far behind other industrialized nations in paid leave and health care.

“In countries around the world, in Scandinavia and in Germany, the ideas that I am talking about are not radical ideas,” Sanders explained in Iowa.

“We cannot continue to have a government dominated by the billionaire class and a Congress that continues to work for the interest of the people on top while ignoring working families.”

He lives in Burlington with his second wife Jane. Together, the couple have four children and seven grandchildren.

Are Palestinian teens committing ‘suicide by soldier’?

What is motivating the terrorists in Israel’s current wave of knife, car-ramming and shooting attacks? What goes through the head of, say, a young Palestinian who enters a supermarket and plunges his knife into the neck of a woman he’s never met?

According to sources within the Israel Defense Forces, aside from the ostensible ideological motive, many of these attacks are a form of “suicide by cop,” or “suicide by soldier.”

“Most of the people have personal problems with their families or they themselves are unbalanced,” a senior IDF officer in the Central Command told The Times of Israel.

Referring to the terrorist who killed two Jews and a Palestinian near the Jewish settlement of Alon Shvut, including 18-year-old Ezra Schwartz, the officer suggested, “He may have owed people money.”

“They all have their personal reasons,” the officer continued. “You have 12- and 13-year-old girls, a 14-year-old boy. There was also that old woman in Hebron who tried to ram her car. Or that woman from Silwan, 40 years old, with four kids, from a wealthy home.”

Ariel Merari, a professor emeritus of psychology at Tel Aviv University, has interviewed and studied would-be Palestinian suicide bombers in previous waves of attacks. He said that while he has not directly interviewed any of the latest attackers, what the IDF officer said is consistent with his findings from a decade and two decades ago, as described in his 2010 book, “Driven to Death: Psychological and Social Aspects of Suicide Terrorism.

Psychologist of terror Ariel Merari (YouTube)

“I did not investigate the current wave of stabbers, and therefore I can only speculate as to what is motivating them,” he said.

“The first question that has to be asked about the current wave is not why there are so many attackers, but why there are so few. There are many opinion pollsof the Palestinian population, very good ones. And there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian population hates Israel. The vast majority are happy when there are terror attacks against Israel. But when it comes down to it, very few are willing to carry out these attacks themselves.”

Merari said that what distinguishes the attackers in the current wave of terror is not hatred of Israel, because this is broadly shared throughout the Palestinian population.

“So it’s more appropriate to ask, of those who did carry out attacks, why them and not others? What makes them different?”

Merari said that among the suicide bombers of the Second Intifada, he found using psychological tests that 40 percent were suicidal, meaning they wanted to die for personal reasons. Twenty percent had actually tried but failed to kill themselves before becoming a suicide bomber.

In the present wave of attacks, almost half of the approximately 180 attackers have been shot dead, and those who embark on new attacks are doubtless aware of these odds.

“It’s not complete suicide, because complete suicide is when a person kills themselves — in this case someone kills them. But they’re bringing it on; it’s pretty similar to what in the United States is called suicide by police.”

No single motivator

In his studies, when Merari asked failed suicide bombers what had motivated them, almost all talked about the “humiliation of the Israeli occupation.”

Beyond that, Merari believes there are multiple motives that come together to spur someone to embark on an attack.

“It’s not that there is one cause and that’s it — like incitement. Incitement certainly plays an important role. Even a person who really wants to die for personal reasons could do it several different ways.”

But the fact that Islam forbids suicide is key, said Merari. “If someone commits suicide, his family become outcasts. If he really wants to die, in the current political climate, it is very convenient to do it this way, to commit suicide by police. Because then the entire society will say, ‘How wonderful, he is a shahid, he is a hero. They will not say he committed a religiously forbidden act.’”

Merari said that in his studies of suicide bombers from the Second Intifada and before, he found that most tended to be marginal, unpopular, easily led youngsters who saw themselves as failures.

“They weren’t highly ideological; instead they tended to be people who thought they had disappointed their parents. This act [of killing] allowed them to achieve social prominence.”

He recalled an incident from the post-Oslo terror wave of the 1990s.

“There was a young man from Gaza, 15 years old. He came to class and told his friends. ‘I am planning to become a shahid, a martyr. I ask that after I die, no one sit at my desk, and that you put flowers on my table every day.’ This young man was looking for some kind of significance.”

Merari dismissed the notion that there was a line a terrorist could cross that would mean his society would no longer adulate him as a martyr, even if he killed another Muslim, or a child.

“Even Israelis make excuses if someone kills a bystander in the midst of a terror attack, like the Eritrean migrant, and Israeli society has a forgiving attitude, unfortunately. In terms of killing noncombatants or children, there are a lot of excuses. ‘The kids will grow and go to the army so they have to be killed young.’ Another excuse is ‘if they are children and didn’t sin they will go to paradise, so I am doing them a favor.’ They also say, ‘The Jews kill our children so we can kill theirs.’”

Still image from footage showing a knife-wielding terrorist (circled) stabbing Israelis as they wait at a bus stop on Jerusalem Boulevard in Ra'anana on October 12, 2015. (screen capture)

He also said none of his interviewees expressed regret for their actions.

“I did not encounter any instances of remorse. I am sure there are Palestinians who are opposed to terror attacks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was opposed to suicide attacks, even when [his predecessor Yasser] Arafat was alive. But among those we interviewed there was not a single person who expressed remorse.

Asked about the current wave of terror, Merari said the political climate needs to change. “The Palestinian public needs hope. We offer them nothing that gives them hope for independence. They are under occupation.”

Netanyahu threatens to eclipse 2014 war to destroy Gaza tunnels

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded Sunday to critics charging his government was failing to deal with newly dug tunnels under the Israel-Hamas frontier, threatening to blow up the underground passages if need be.

“We are working methodically and calmly against all threats, including threats from Hamas, both with defensive and offensive measures. And of course, in the event we attack the tunnels in the Gaza Strip, we will act very forcefully against Hamas, and with much more force than Operation Protective Edge,” Netanyahu told a conference of Israeli diplomats, referring to the 50-day war in the Gaza Strip in 2014.

Israel Defense Forces officials and southern residents have expressed concern in recent days that Hamas is rebuilding a series of subterranean passages, used for attacking Israel, which were destroyed during the 2014 war between Israel and Gazan fighters.

During that war, Israeli troops uncovered and destroyed dozens of tunnels, but only after Netanyahu approved a ground invasion of the Strip amid heavy pressure from coalition allies to expand what had — to that point — been a ground campaign.

Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s foreign minister, told the diplomats that Jerusalem would have international backing for such a move, and warned Hamas not to “try us.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Conference for representatives and ambassadors of Israel abroad, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2016. (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“I think they understand this in the region, understand this in the world,” he continued. “I hope we won’t need to, but our capabilities — both defensive and offensive — are developing rapidly.”

Hours earlier, opposition chief Isaac Herzog called for the government to take action and bomb the tunnels, accusing Netanyahu’s cabinet of being “idle” in the face of the Hamas threat.

“The political leadership must provide a clear public answer to the citizens. [It must] stop hesitating…. They must instruct the IDF to bomb the tunnels and destroy this threat. Especially if there are tunnels that have already crossed the border into Israel,” Herzog said.

“Why are we waiting? For terrorists, with their weapons drawn, to emerge in a kibbutz or a moshav? The prime minister and the defense minister must provide an answer to the citizens.

In this Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 file photo, Israeli politicians Isaac Herzog, right, and Tzipi Livni listen during a tour along the Israel and Gaza Strip border. (photo credit: AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File )

“One day, we’ll wake up and discover that, once again, we underestimated the seriousness of the threat,” Herzog warned. “It will cost us in blood and terrible sorrow.”

Last week, a senior defense official said Hamas’s military wing had rehabilitated itself and was ready for a fresh round of hostilities with Israel. Other military leaders have said intensive tunnel rebuilding is underway.

On Saturday, the terror group publicized a new video clip, lauding what it called the unknown fighters who are “toiling day and night” to build the attack tunnels.

Over the weekend, residents of areas near the Gaza Strip complained that tunnel digging into Israel from the Hamas-run territory has come so close to their homes that it has caused their floors to shake.

Palestinian militants from the Islamic Jihad's armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, squat in a tunnel used for ferrying rockets and mortars back and forth in preparation for the next conflict with Israel, as they take part in military training in the south of the Gaza Strip on March 3, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The head of the Eshkol Regional Council, Gadi Yarkoni, told Israel Radio that many residents have been complaining of hearing — and feeling — increased underground digging activity in recent weeks. In addition, they were disappointed that the IDF has failed to build protective barriers against the cross-border terror tunnels — as it had promised it would after the summer 2014 war in Gaza.

Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, built dozens of tunnels into Israel, many of which were used to carry out attacks against soldiers during the 2014 war. The IDF said it destroyed over 30 tunnels during the war, and some officials said the army was surprised at the extent of the tunnel building.

A number of tunnels were used during the war to attack army installations. The IDF later said the tunnels had been dug as part of a plan to carry out a massive attack against an Israeli community, but when war broke out, Hamas fighters abandoned the plot.

Trump faces key test with Iowa primary

For Donald Trump, Iowa’s caucuses will be the first test of whether the celebrity businessman and political newcomer will be able to transform the massive crowds he has drawn throughout the election into votes as the U.S. primary season gets underway Monday.

Trump’s outsider candidacy has upended the Republican establishment, largely dominating the polls in the race to nominate the party’s presidential candidate ahead of November elections. Meanwhile, establishment-supported candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have failed to take-off.

Trump spoke of the importance of Iowa for his campaign and, in a rare moment of introspection at a rally in Norwalk, acknowledged the potential “psychological” consequences of a loss here.

“They say bad psychological things happen if you lose,” he said. “I don’t know what the impact is.”

The outcome likely rests on turnout and whether Trump’s campaign is able to lure the non-traditional caucus-goers who may have never participated in the caucus process to the polls.

Some are skeptical Trump has the organizational structure to pull off a commanding win.

Doug Watts, a Republican strategist who recently parted ways with Trump rival Ben Carson’s campaign, a win for Trump is “pretty critical.”

If he doesn’t win, Watts said, “people will start saying, ‘Hmm, well, maybe he’s not so inevitable. Maybe Marco Rubio can climb into a solid second in New Hampshire.’

Chuck Laudner the architect of Trump’s Iowa campaign expressed confidence the voters would turn out for his candidate.

“There’s nothing about this campaign that’s like all the rest or any of those in the past,” he said. “We do things different. And we reach out to people that wouldn’t normally be caught dead at caucus events. And so we feel really good about our chances, we feel really good about our reach and I think you’re going to have a surprise on a caucus night.”

Trump, who appears to have emerged from a dead-heat with rival Ted Cruz to re-capture his position atop state polls, has done little to minimize expectations, predicting again and again that he’ll do better than the polls suggest.

And as he traveled across the state in the final weekend before voting, Trump had a quiet air of satisfaction, with seemingly little worry about the outcome.

“We began this journey — it’s a journey, we did it together — and it’s been an amazing experience,” he told a crowd gathered in the auditorium of a middle school in Clinton Saturday. “Nobody thought it was going to turn out this way.”

Israeli, Palestinian and American collaboration saves life of Nablus teen

Cooperation between Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and the US National Institutes of Health has saved the life of Jummana, a 17-year-old girl from Nablus who had been suffering from a serious and rare endocrine problem.

Working together under a new model of treatment called “Bring the Patient, Bring the Surgeon,” her PA doctors to referred her to Rambam Medical Center, Haifa, where she arrived in a wheelchair suffering from extreme pain in her bones and was diagnosed with hypophosphatemia (extremely low phosphate levels). The cause of the condition, however, left her physicians puzzled.

Following an examination, pediatric endocrinologist Prof. Dov Tiosano realized they were dealing with the hormone FGF23, which is secreted from the bones.

Jummana underwent successful surgery at Rambam last week and it is expected that the collaboration will now benefit others suffering from the rare condition.

FGF23 only came to the attention of physicians in the past decade. Over-secretion of the hormone generally is related to a genetic disease resulting from consanguinity – the marriage of two first cousins, as are Jummana’s parents. However, testing revealed no genetic problems.

Tiosano believed the only other possible cause could be a tumor, and contacted a colleague in the NIH who helped clinch the diagnosis – a rare tumor just 0.5 centimeter in size in Jummana’s palate that was consuming massive amounts of calcium and phosphorous from her bones.

Rare in adults, such a tumor in a teen was virtually unheard of.

Diagnosis made, the NIH turned to Prof. John A. van Aalst, director of the plastic surgery division at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for advice regarding the best-qualified hospital to perform the surgery, which was complicated by the patient’s age and need for complex endocrinological follow-up.

Van Aalst said there were only four possibilities, with Rambam the clear choice when he realized that Jummana’s endocrine exams had already been performed at the Haifa hospital. In addition, he had particularly strong connections with the deputy director of Rambam’s oral and maxillofacial surgery department, Dr. Omri Emodi, as well as physicians and surgeons in Nablus.

“Why did we choose Rambam?” said van Aalst. “Because of all the connections here, it was simpler for the family, and in the end safest, because she had a major endocrine problem that would be quite complicated to treat once the tumor was removed.”

When Jummana’s doctors in the PA were contacted, they made a referral to Rambam via the PA Health Ministry, and while bureaucracy was being handled, Emodi set up the multidisciplinary team needed for the operation, which included the patient’s endocrinologist, a hemato-oncologist and the pre-planning to create the necessary prosthodontics.

It was a lot of preparation for a fairly routine surgery that would take just 90 minutes.

This included bringing her doctors from Nablus to Rambam to observe the procedure and learn more about her condition so they could better follow-up with her in Nablus and gain valuable knowledge for treating similar problems if diagnosed in the PA.

Van Aalst flew over for the surgery, as well.

“Omri didn’t need me for the surgery, but I wanted to be there. I had a personal sense of responsibility. I said to Omri: ‘You set the date and I’ll be there.’” He disclosed that nothing would have happened had it not been for the story within the story – Van Aalst’s mother was born in Tulkarm, near Netanya, and he is closely connected to family throughout the PA and West Bank so he wanted to contribute to the advancement of medicine there.

For the past decade, van Aalst has been working together with two surgeons from the West Bank, both of whom had happened to be Jummana’s doctors. In addition, he is a friend of Emodi.

“Every six months, I have been going to the West Bank and Gaza to operate. At the end of my time there, I visit Rambam to work with Omri. Three years ago, I introduced the surgeons from the PA to Omri; this is now their third trip here to Rambam.”

When it was decided that Jummana was going to come to Rambam, the team invited her Nablus physician to write the medical report. Because the doctors knew each other and were known to the authorities involved, it was easy to make the arrangements for the PA doctors to come with girl, van Aalst explained.

Now that the tumor has been removed, “We hope to be able to restore the calcium and the phosphate to her bones,” Tiossano said. “Given that her bone density is extremely low (a -8 Z-score), building her bones up again is the real challenge. This will be a long journey, but we are on track.”

Many doctors are interested in Jummana’s recovery because of the rarity of the condition. She will soon be released, but will return to Rambam for examinations; NIH rehabilitation experts will visit during follow-up to see how she is doing and learn how the intervention is helping her to return to normal bone density and function.

This is the goal of the “Bring the Patient, Bring the Surgeon” since bringing the patient’s own surgeon and physician helps create self-sufficiency in the ongoing care of the patient as well as in the care of future patients with similar problems.

Meanwhile, the life of a five-year-old boy from Syria was saved after undergoing open-heart surgery at Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel, in Petah Tikva.

He suffered from a congenital defect that caused his skin to turn blue because of inadequate oxygen reaching his body tissue.

The boy’s mother crossed the border into Israel, and brought him to Western Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya with help from the Israel Defense Force’s Northern Command.

He was then moved to the pediatric heart institute and the intensive care unit after the surgery by Dr. George Frankel.

“I thank Schneider’s medical team for treating my son so devotedly and saving his life,” the mother said.

Poverty, inequality mar strong Israeli economy, OECD report finds

Israel’s economy has fundamental strengths, as well as high levels of poverty and inequality, according to the latest Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reports on Israel, released Sunday.

While Israel ranks poorly compared to OECD averages in areas such as poverty, housing and air quality, it places among the best in terms of life satisfaction, health status and educational attainment.

Yet, while Israelis are trustful, the perceived corruption level is high, which the report said is a “cause for concern.”

“With GDP growth averaging nearly 4 percent since 2003, Israel is consistently one of the strongest performers in the OECD,” said the organization’s secretary general, Angel Gurría, who was in Jerusalem to formally present the fourth OECD Economic Survey of Israel and the Assessing and Measuring of Well-Being in Israel report.

Israel, which is celebrating its fifth year as an OECD member, has a strong hi-tech sector, world-class universities, and economic opportunity in its natural gas reserves, has grown consistently for 13 years.

“But, while these advantages have allowed Israel to close the gap in average living standards with the most advanced OECD economies, a number of challenges lie ahead to ensure that growth is sustainable and inclusive,” Gurría said.

In 2013, Israel had the second highest rate of poverty, second to Mexico. Furthermore, Israel ranked fifth after Chile, Mexico, Turkey and the US in income inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient – a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income distribution of a nation’s residents and the most commonly used measure of inequality.

According to the report, Israel has one of the lowest shares of satisfaction with the availability of “good, affordable housing.” In 2014, just 36% of Israelis were satisfied with the availability of housing – the third lowest rate after Slovenia and Poland in the OECD and well below the OECD average of 52%.

The report found that in recent years there has been an “increasing perception amongst many Israelis, particularly amongst the young middle class, that living standards are stagnating or even falling.”

In 2014, 67% of Israelis reported they were satisfied with their living standards, 5 percentage points below the OECD average of 72%, placing Israel in the bottom third of OECD countries on this measure.

Despite these statistics, however, the report found that in contrast to most OECD countries, Israeli confidence in the government doubled from 22% in 2007 to 44% in 2014 – the third biggest increase among OECD countries after Germany and Iceland.

And, unlike many OECD countries, the 2008 financial crisis had relatively little impact on economic production and growth.

Israel has an employment rate of 68%, 2 percentage points higher than the OECD average, the findings indicated, while unemployment was at 6.2%, also better than the OECD average of 7.3%. The longterm unemployment rate is the fourth lowest in the OECD at only 0.6% compared to an OECD average of 2.6%.

Despite this, the report indicated that gross annual earnings of full time employees were well below the OECD average of US $28,817 in 2013, compared to $40,640 on average in the OECD.

The report, however, criticized the Histadrut labor federation- led charge to substantially increase the minimum wage.

Raising the minimum too quickly, the report said, “could reduce profitability and competitiveness, harming business investment and net exports and, therefore, could threaten employment opportunities for low-skilled workers and youths.”

The report found that the unemployment rate is relatively low due to a high share of “non-standard work” such as temporary, part time and self-employed work, which tends to be associated with low-paying jobs and low levels of job security.

Israel needs to boost its human capital, which is significantly below the OECD average, mostly due to low employment rates among Arab-Israelis and the ultra-Orthodox, the report posited.

The report also found that Israelis tend to work longer hours than in other OECD countries, with an average of 40.9 hours per week, compared with an OECD average of 38.4 hours in 2014. Israel ranked third after Turkey and Mexico in the share of workers working over 50 hours per week.

Israel ranks second among OECD countries – tied with Japan and after Canada – for the percentage of 25-64 year olds who have completed higher education – 46% compared to the OECD average of 32%.

However, educational performance measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assess the cognitive skills of 15 year olds in math, reading and science, is significantly lower than the OECD average, with an overall score of 474 compared to 497.

Israel had the highest rates of score dispersion in the OECD with regards to the difference in scores between the top 10% of students and the bottom 10%.

The report found Israelis are very satisfied with life, scoring 7.4 (out of a possible 10) compared to the OECD average of 6.6 in 2014.

Israel is a “highly diverse society with large differences in well-being outcomes between the Jewish and the Arab population, and also between different subgroups within each population.”

The report found that Arabs are “unambiguously disadvantaged” across all categories, experiencing higher rates of poverty and lower levels of labor force participation, educational attainment and health status.

These limitations are mutually reinforcing, the report explained as lower rates of education influence opportunities for better employment.

The high cost of housing weighs down the middle class, and “relatively high price levels due to weak competition, in particular in the food sector, impose a greater cost, in terms of living standards, to socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.”

The report recommended introducing further competition to insulated sectors by removing trade barriers and fixing price-control regulations that were “far from best practices.”

It also urged reforms to introduce competition to uncompetitive portions of the economy, such as the banking system.

Relative to other OECD countries, Israel’s income redistribution is “limited,” as are its investments on education, infrastructure and public transportation, in part because of a tightening fiscal framework.

The report noted that relative to other OECD countries, Israel’s income redistribution is “limited,” as are its investments on education, infrastructure and public transport, in part because of a tightening fiscal framework. It criticized the cap limiting expenditure growth, and recommended doing away with inefficient tax policies, such as the VAT exemption on fruits and vegetables.

By raising the relatively low tax rates, the report said, Israel could spend more on some of those priorities. It also said a better policy would be a gradual rise alongside increases in Earned Income Tax Credit, known in Israel as negative income tax.

In Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted the shortcomings and strengths cited in the report, but took issue with the assertion that tax rates are too low.

“I believe that part of our growth has resulted from lower taxation and lower tax rates.

And I think our tax rates are not too low. I think they’re not low enough and to the extent that we can lower them further, we will. This is the one point of disagreement I have with you,” Netanyahu told Gurría.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said the government was already getting ahead of many of the issues cited in the report, such as increasing allotments for the elderly, and was busy working on decreasing concentration in the banking sector, reducing housing costs and cutting red tape.

His assurances did not assuage the opposition, however.

“The OECD report is a resounding and shameful failure for Israel’s government, and especially the one who has led it through seven, long, sad, terrible years” said Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit.

Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn also blasted the government, saying reducing equality was not even on its agenda.

“How many more embarrassing reports and failing grades will the state need in order to make a real change?” he asked.

One on One: Egypt’s fragile alliance with the US as it faces terrorist threat

On December 16, David Schenker – the Aufzien fellow and director of the program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute – testified in front of the US Congress about the security situation in Egypt, delivering a scathing analysis of the Arab world’s most populous state.

“Egypt does not appear to be taking even the most obvious steps necessary to better secure the state,” he said, in a prepared speech marking two years after the ousting of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

His remarks were made mere weeks before terrorism directed at tourists had stepped up in Egypt. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on Israeli-Arab tourists in Cairo last week.

Egyptian officials said that the hotel where 32 Israeli-Arab tourists and their tour bus came under attack by youths who threw fire bombs and fired pellets, damaging the hotel’s facade and the bus. Witnesses said Molotov cocktails and live ammunition were also used in the attack. One day later three foreign tourists – two Austrians and a Swede – were stabbed by suspected terrorists at a hotel in Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of Hurghada.

Schenker, who previously served as the Levant country director in the US Defense Secretary’s Office, sat down for an interview with the Magazine to discuss the Egypt-US relationship, the challenges facing Cairo against the terrorist threat and Egypt-Israel relations.

How do you see the security situation in Egypt, and the extent of its ability to fight terrorism?

Egypt has enormous security challenges.

The Islamic State-led insurgency in the Sinai, which claimed responsibility for downing the Russian airliner in October, has gotten a lot of attention.

The so-called “Province of Sinai” has been persistent and lethal, killing nearly 1,000 Egyptian military, police and border security forces in recent years.

To date, despite official claims from Cairo, it does not appear that Egypt is succeeding in rolling back the terrorists in the peninsula. Collateral damage – unintended civilian casualties and property destruction – are believed to be exceedingly high as well. Meanwhile, although attacks have recently slowed, the insurgency has crossed the Suez Canal, and appears to be taking root along the Nile River. Over the past year, there have been several high-profile terrorist attacks against security installations, assassinations of government officials and the targeting of tourist sites. In some ways, the current situation is starting to resemble Egypt in the 1990s.

For Sinai and the terrorism happening there, do you see the military tactics, already applied there several years ago, able to defeat the insurgency, and how Cairo can benefit from the expertise of Washington in this field?

While it’s difficult to determine exactly what is happening on the ground in the Sinai, to date, the Egyptian military does not appear to be containing or rolling back the insurgency in the Sinai.

There appear to be significant intelligence gaps, and a heavy-handed military approach that seems to ignore modern counterinsurgency or COIN tactics that rely more on pinpoint strikes, highly mobile forces and an economic development component that could encourage more local support for the Egyptian government. If the reports of extensive civilian casualties are true; if reports that the Egyptian government has not appropriately compensated thousands of residents near the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip – whose homes along the border were razed – are true, Egypt could be inadvertently adding to the potential pool of recruits for Islamic State. Washington has learned a lot over the past decade from fighting insurgencies, and is urging the government of Egypt to adopt these hard-learned modern counterinsurgency techniques. Cairo has so far been resistant to adopting a new approach.

What is your interpretation of accusations of secrecy and lack of clarity regarding Egyptian military operations? How do you see the accusations directed toward Washington, that it provides Cairo with weapons that are used to violate human rights?

The absence of transparency of military operations in the Sinai – the banning of journalists, the legislation prohibiting publication of reports that contradict the official Egyptian government position – has further fueled concerns in Washington of high civilian casualties and human rights abuses.

US law regulates how US weapons employed by foreign governments are used. The lack of transparency is a problem, and could become an irritant in the bilateral relationship.

Libya, on the western border of Egypt, is unstable, embroiled in its own civil war. Do you see disagreements between Washington and Cairo on how to deal with Libya, and what type of assistance can the US provide Egypt in this regard?

Cairo has long maintained that the insurgency is being fueled by weapons arriving from Libya, but Egypt has not done enough to secure this long and porous border. Washington has provided some technical and material assistance to do so, but Egypt has not prioritized this matter by devoting its own budgetary resources to the effort. The killing of eight Mexican tourists in the Western Desert in September by Egyptian forces suggests Egypt has ongoing intelligence/ border security problems with Libya that need to be remedied. This would require perhaps reprogramming some of Egypt’s current military funding, being spent on expensive legacy systems. Cairo has been hesitant to do so.

Libya is a failed state, and this will continue to be a problem. On two occasions Egypt (and the United Arab Emirates) bombed targets in Libya, reportedly without first notifying Washington.

The Obama administration is still committed to a diplomatic solution in Libya. Egypt doesn’t have confidence in this approach – and with good reason.

Instead, Cairo appears to want to support Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his Operation Dignity forces in the struggle for Libya. It would be helpful if Washington and Cairo could get on the same page in Libya, so the US could better help Egypt be more proactive in its own defense.

Following the bombing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai – what is your opinion to the extent of the challenge facing Egypt in terms of airport security, and what kinds of expertise and assistance does the country require?

Despite Cairo’s reluctance to concede a bomb may have downed the Russian airliner over Sinai in October, the United States, Egypt and the international community all have an interest in addressing concerns over airport security in Egypt.

As The New York Times reported in November, European officials “have repeatedly complained that X-ray and explosive-detection equipment used to scan baggage is out of date, poorly maintained or poorly operated by inadequately trained staff members.”

This is a problem that Western financial and technical support can and should help mitigate. Egypt appears to now be in the process of contracting a Western company to help, which is a positive and appropriate, if not belated, step.

The international community would have more confidence in Egypt, however, if it focused on solving these problems, rather than denying they exist.

The bombed Russian airliner is eerily reminiscent of Egypt’s continued denial, despite the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board, that an Egyptian suicide pilot intentionally downed EgyptAir Flight 990 over the Atlantic in 1999.

How do you see the security and military cooperation between Egypt and Israel at this stage, and how Israel can help Egypt overcome the insurgency located in the Sinai, and in the war on terrorism?

The quiet security cooperation between Egypt and Israel in the Sinai Peninsula is by all accounts excellent. Israel has acceded to dozens of Egyptian requests to temporarily modify the security annex of the Camp David Accords, allowing Egypt to deploy whatever additional assets – troops, tanks and aircraft – Egypt has requested into the Sinai. On at least one occasion, it was reported that Israel attacked terrorists there with Egyptian approval with an armed drone flying over Egyptian airspace. In December, an Egyptian F-16 reportedly entered Gaza air space, and caused no diplomatic problem between the two states.

Finally, do you still see Washington’s annual military assistance to Cairo, which amounts to $1.3 billion, as an effective and influential element in the bilateral relationship, despite the emergence of other financiers in recent years?

The $1.3 billion in US annual military assistance remains an important symbol of Washington’s commitment to Egypt’s security and ongoing support for Egypt’s maintenance of the Camp David peace treaty with Israel. As Egypt’s GDP has increased, and other Gulf donors – like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait – have stepped up, the relative import of the US contribution has become smaller. Yet the US remains a key actor in the region, and the continued stability and pro-West orientation of Cairo is a critical component of the US strategic architecture in the Middle East.

At times, Washington has attempted to leverage this assistance to promote more democratic governance in Egypt, but this has not succeeded. At present, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sees itself in a life-and-death struggle with Islamists, and is not likely to make some of the changes Washington would like to see. Washington will continue to press Cairo, quietly, to reform economically and politically, because the US sees reform as enhancing Egypt’s prospects for long-term stability. Nevertheless, as long as Egypt maintains its pro-West orientation and the treaty, the aid is likely to continue.

Egypt has significant challenges. Washington, and its regional allies want to see Egypt succeed.