Posted by Simone Wilson
Totally regretting that massive drug deal I made at the nightclub across from the U.S. Embassy last weekend.
In a report on IsraelDefense.com yesterday, Israeli intelligence analyst Ronen Solomon revealed that while examining aerial photographs of various U.S. embassies around the world, he discovered "completely identical devices" to the spy box in Berlin, recently outed by German newspaper De Spiegel, "on the roofs of embassies in many more countries, including in Tel Aviv."
Der Spiegel originally reported that the "Special Collection Service" (SCS), a unit within America's now-infamous National Security Agency (NSA), has been utilizing sketchy infrastructure atop the U.S. Embassy in Berlin to tap into signals passing by or through the embassy. Ex-NSA superstar Edward Snowden provided the paper documents showing that "the SCS operates its own sophisticated listening devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite communication."
Here's how Der Spiegel described the spy box:
From the roof of the embassy, a special unit of the CIA and NSA can apparently monitor a large part of cellphone communication in the government quarter. ... The necessary equipment is usually installed on the upper floors of the embassy buildings or on rooftops where the technology is covered with screens or Potemkin-like structures that protect it from prying eyes.
Hilariously, the best photo of Tel Aviv's own (underwhelming) version comes courtesy of Ali Mansouri, that gooby 55-year-old in short-shorts jailed last month for allegedly spying on Israel for Iran. Authorities claimed he snapped multiple photos of Ben Gurion Airport and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. This gem was apparently taken from the "Isrotel" monstrosity next door to the embassy, and inexplicably released to the press by the Israel Security Agency after Mansouri was caught:
But don't expect any outraged government press statements or street riots 'round these parts.
A common misconception around the world is that Israelis will be offended when they learn their No. 1 ally/mama bird/butt buddy is spying on them. On the contrary, Israel invented this game. They're probably even in on it. Not only did Israeli companies supply the technology behind the NSA spying, but recent reports indicate Israeli authorities could have access to much of the agency's loot. French newspaper Le Monde, for one, recently accused the Israeli Mossad of helping hack into the phone of former French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that many former Israeli intelligence officers are of the educated opinion that "Israel knows it is a victim, lives with it as 'part of the game' in intelligence, does all it can to limit NSA spying and believes the Europeans are overreacting." Solomon related much of the same: "The assumption in Israel is that the U.S. listens in on all of the conversations taking place in the Middle East, as well as in Europe, especially if they are unencrypted," he wrote in his report.
In fact, Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad, told Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv last week:
“I can tell you with certain knowledge that [America] has been listening in on its allies, including Israel... not necessarily in [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister. The US doesn’t really care about anyone [but itself] and the Americans are vehemently denying the incidents. It could very well be that these things [monitoring calls] are happening here [in Israel] too. When the Americans think they need to listen in on someone, they’ll do just that.”
The general population in Israel, too, is likely to greet the news with a big fat yawn.
As I previously noted when Israel launched the Western world's single most invasive biometric ID system this summer, the average (Jewish) Israeli is far more concerned with his security than his privacy rights. And if that means a few spy cams and wire-tappings, so be it. "I think we know that all our phones/computers are already (and for a while) are being monitored for security reasons," a friend told me on Facebook.
One could even say that some Israelis like being spied on, in a way — because at least then they know the "bad guys" are getting the same treatment. We'll just make sure to take our MDMA orders around the corner from Hayarkon Street next time.
Update, 7:20 a.m.: In a phone interview with Solomon, who is commonly used as a source by Israeli newspapers, he told me that rumors have been circulating about "something happening on the roof" at the U.S. Embassy for some time now. "So when this story exploded," he said, "I knew where to look." Below is a graphic he created of similar-looking devices on the rooftops of 12 different U.S. embassies around the world.
Solomon said he does believe the Iranian spy was onto something when he took that photo from the Isrotel: "I think he was looking for counterintelligence," said the Israeli analyst. "He photographed the same devices on the roof of the U.S. Embassy that I'm looking at."
The Israeli government would have to be completely clueless to just be finding out about this activity now, he added.
As recently revealed in another Snowden-Guardian bombshell, the NSA is very intimately partnered with the Israeli army's 8200 unit (Israel's version of the NSA). It was this same collaboration, reported the Guardian, which revealed the Syrian regime's alleged involvement in the August chemical weapons attack heard around the world. "So I don’t believe that Israelis are not clever enough to know what [the U.S. is] putting on their roof," said Solomon.
Still, he said, Israeli officials may not be aware of the extent to which the Americans are using the technology. "We know that [former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister] Ehud Barack was using his mobile phone when he was living in Tel Aviv, within a few kilometers of the U.S. Embassy," said Solomon, adding: "When we are speaking about a friend, if you want trust, you must keep his privacy."
12.4.13 at 2:20 pm | An upcoming role alongside Ben Affleck and Henry. . .
12.1.13 at 4:30 am | Gadot, a former Miss Israel, joined the "Fast and. . .
12.1.13 at 3:00 am | By accident, I walked passed Einstein's very. . .
11.27.13 at 10:00 am | "Open facility," in this case, seems to be a. . .
11.13.13 at 10:05 am | The IDF just loaded about 150 soldiers and 100. . .
11.12.13 at 8:30 am | A small child swishes down the same red plastic. . .
12.1.13 at 4:30 am | Gadot, a former Miss Israel, joined the "Fast and. . . (32093)
12.4.13 at 2:20 pm | An upcoming role alongside Ben Affleck and Henry. . . (857)
12.1.13 at 3:00 am | By accident, I walked passed Einstein's very. . . (532)
October 23, 2013 | 1:30 pm
Posted by Simone Wilson
Both sides of the Israel-Palestine debate are going nuts over an alleged shout-out that Rihanna made to Palestine — and not Israel — at her sold-out concert in Tel Aviv last night.
Thing is, it didn't actually happen.
As the story went, while Rihanna was performing "Pour It Up," she changed the lyric "All I see is dollar signs" to "All I see is Palestine." Palestinians and their supporters began praising her gutsy move on Twitter — much-needed cred in the Arab world for Rihanna after she ignored the BDSers by scheduling a show in Israel, then staged a sexy photo shoot outside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi earlier this week. Meanwhile, all the Israelis who had been in attendance at the Tel Aviv concert started asking: Wait, why didn't I hear that?
Here's how the rumor started.
The only news outlet that originally reported the lyric change was left-wing Israeli paper Ha'aretz. In her review of the concert, entertainment reporter Amy Klein wrote:
Nor did [Rihanna's fans] care when in “Pour it Up” instead of “All I see is signs / All I see is dollar signs,” she subbed in “All I see is Palestine,” or the fact that she just kept inserting calls of “Tel Aviv!” in every song – never once saying the word Israel.
Jereusalem Post reporter Lahav Harkov, who was also in attendance, was the first to speak up. "If every newspaper in the country sent ppl to the @rihanna concert & only Haaretz heard a pro-Palestinian comment, it probably didn't happen," she Tweeted. Another warning sign could have been that Rihanna had been hashtagging #Israel all up on her Twitter feed in the days leading up to the show.
However, that didn't stop international aggregators as big as Al Bawaba, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post and Radar Online from picking up the Ha'aretz observation. Even the Muslim Women in History Tumblr account asked: "Time to forgive her?"
Oops. Here's proof that Rihanna didn't shout-out Palestine, beginning at the six-minute mark, via YouTube user RobynsBitch:
In a personal poll of about 10 of my friends who attended the concert, all of them agreed that Rihanna never used the word "Palestine." But if anyone out there has any proof she did, please — throw it at me. And can we all take a moment to hand it to Ha'aretz reporter Amy Klein for the cleverest lyric swap of 2013? Even if it was just in her head.
October 23, 2013 | 3:30 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
The Middle Eastern leg of Rihanna's "Diamonds" tour has been half sold-out stadiums, half location-themed Instagram photo shoots. She posed in some goddess drapery along the white-and-blue Mediterranean coastline of Greece, in figure-hugging Muslim dress at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (which actually kicked her out for posing too sexy) and, just yesterday, in a liberated bikini at the Dead Sea in Israel.
But according to various reports, Rihanna's warm autumn day at the Dead Sea may have pushed into her stage time at Yarkon Park, where over 50,000 fans showed up to make it the largest concert by a female performer in Israeli history.
The Times of Israel reported that Rihanna took the stage at 10 p.m., two-and-a-half hours after the concert's 7:30 p.m. start time — although part of that included opening act GTA — and left a full 10 tracks off her planned set list.
To say the Rihanna concert in Tel Aviv was highly anticipated is a vast understatement. She's one of the most overplayed artists on the city's nightclub circuit, and posters for her shows have lined the streets for months. Tickets were going for upward of $100 at the end there. The Jerusalem Post even called her "the real mayor of Tel Aviv."
For the reporters in attendance, her stunted set was a decided letdown. Fans on Twitter offered more mixed reviews: "Yesterday was my best day of my LIFE and it's all thanks to you @rihanna!" one wrote. "I saw your performance in #TelAviv last night and it was the worst performance I ever saw in my entire life," countered another.
Rihanna apparently tried to make up for her diva entrance by shouting "TEL AVIV!!!" hella times, telling the crowd what "fucking rockstars" they were, and ending the night with a love note: "Thank you guys so much for making tonight super-duper special," she said before launching into "Diamonds," the final track. "I will never, ever forget this show, and I hope that I get to see you very soon. I had an amazing time, Tel Aviv." However, Ha'aretz reported that she did throw one controversial curveball when, in "Pour It Up," her new stripper anthem, she changed the lyrics "All I see is dollar signs” to “All I see is Palestine." Not quite BDS, but ballsy nonetheless! (Although the Jerusalem Post reporter who live-Tweeted the concert noted that "if every newspaper in the country sent ppl to the @rihanna concert & only Haaretz heard a pro-Palestinian comment, it probably didn't happen.")
Below, the Instagram photo shoot that preceded the firestorm. Hopefully Israel's favorite Barbadian learned her lesson: After a long and glamorous afternoon at the Dead Sea, it takes at least a full evening to wash off the stink.
October 18, 2013 | 1:05 pm
Posted by Simone Wilson
In the third quarter of 2013, Israeli startups raised a collective $660 million — the highest heap of investments since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. The Startup Nation is officially on top of the world.
And it just so happens that one of its lone cover girls, Technion alumna Kira Radinsky, PhD, had an equally slam-dunk summer: Her startup, SalesPredict, reached the $1 million mark in seed funding, and the MIT Technology Review recognized 26-year-old Radinsky as the youngest of 10 women in its annual crop of “35 Innovators Under 35.” All that recognition then caused global media outlets to dig up her fascinating PhD project from last year, in which she and a mentor at Microsoft Research wrote a program that can predict major natural disasters and disease outbreaks by sifting through decades of news reports and other Internet data.
I sat down with the gorgeous young Russian-Israeli at her SalesPredict offices for my print story this week on the absence of women in Startup Nation, hoping to find out how she came out so far ahead in an overwhelmingly male industry. Below, all the juicy bits that didn't make it into the story proper.
On being surrounded by strong, geeky females through her formative years:
I grew up with my mom and aunt. My mom was a math teacher, and she studied computer science, and my aunt is an architect in Amdocs. Because it's a Russian family, they want all their kids to know math. So it's just like math and playing the piano. Also playing different kinds of games — there were computer games where you have to solve riddles and stuff. But some of the riddles were super hard. And we would get them wrong five or six times and couldn't pass to the next stage. So my aunt told me, 'Let's not solve that, let's just write a small computer program to do that.' So we just wrote a really small one. And after that, I really liked [computer science].
To tell you the truth, before I went to the army, I never knew I was a minority in anything. I grew up in a family with only women, and they all were into computer science. And even in my high school, that's the funny thing — the computer science class was like only girls. We only had a few boys: 30 students, 27 girls. I don't know what was special about that specific class, because in any other classes it didn't happen, but they even sent some researcher to study us. It was kind of funny actually. This is what happened: In the 1990s, a lot of people from the U.S.S.R. came — a lot of immigrants settled down. I grew up in Nesher; it's next to the Technion. So a lot of people who had parents from academia or that type of background came there.
Things changed a little bit when I went to the army. The first time I came, I went to this programming course, and there were like three girls, which they barely could find in all of Israel, and like 27 other guys. And then when I came to where I was supposed to work, I was again approximately the only woman. There's one toilet and you have to share. One shower, one toilet. It becomes awkward. Even for them, it's awkward. That's the first time I noticed that I was a minority.
On women who avoid the computer-science field:
One of my friends, she's like, 'I don't know if I'm good enough to do that.' And I'm just like, 'Why? What's the difference?' And she's like, 'I don't know, I see other guys doing it, and they're super technical.' But a programmer is a combination of different characteristics. You don't have to be crazy about gadgets. Who cares about that? There's so many other things that you can do. I think that in general it's true: If you treat yourself as a victim, you become one. In my case, nobody every treated me as a victim — I was only a minority.
When I got to the university level, the ratio was 50/50. I was a minority only in the fact that I was younger than everybody. But I never thought about [being a woman]. And in first degree, in bachelor's, it's about 40/60 men to women I think, so it's unnoticeable. And then it changes a lot in master's and PhD degrees. In the PhD, again you have a lot [of women], but if you look at the professors — like in the Technion, you have three women professors and the other 47 are men. And it's mostly because you need to do the post-doc abroad. You have to move all your family. I think a lot of women don't want to do that or think about that, or don't have enough support to do that. In my case, I went through my PhD, and my husband said, 'Hey, if we need to go, we need to go.' So for me, when I was working in Microsoft Research in Palo Alto, because I did my PhD abroad, he left his work and came with me.
When I was young, I never saw certain families where the woman only played one role. Not even our neighbors — everybody was equal, totally. And I was really surprised when I saw families that were not like that. Like in my relationship, I never think that it's my role to raise the children. I think it's half-and-half at least.
On the incentives for women in high-tech in the U.S.:
At Microsoft, I think it was like 10 percent women. They even told us, 'If you have a woman friend, we're going to give you money if you bring her to Microsoft and she gets accepted.' Or, for example, they said that for the vacation you get after birth, they're going to give you six months instead of three months — just come to Microsoft, you know? I don't think I was promoted because I was a woman, or anything like that, but I do feel like workplaces work super hard to make it appealing for women. Like special meetings only for women, like Mother's Day, where only we get presents.
Strangely, there are even scholarships only for women. And then you're just thinking, 'Why not?' But the thing is, it serves a negative side as well, because then somebody tells you, 'Oh, you got an offer from this university. You're a woman, that's why.' And it's the same thing at work: 'Oh, she got accepted because she was a woman.' It becomes exactly the opposite [of progress].
On walking into a room full of potential investors:
I fall into the category of the young and ambitious, so they don't care about my gender. There was one that asked what I was planning about my family — the issue was raised. And that was kind of weird, and well it's inappropriate, but it's a fair question after all. Even for me, as a manager, when you hire someone and you know that she's of a certain age, she just got married, and she's going to go on vacation for six months... I'm trying not to make it an issue, but especially in a startup, you have this amount of money, this amount of people. If one is missing, that's an issue.
I never experienced [sexism from venture capitalists] while I was in the States, where someone would raise the issue and make me feel uncomfortable about it. Here [in Israel], they are more open to say it. They're not going to ask you parallel questions and try to figure it out. Just like, somebody asked me — I told him I got the Google Anita Borg prize, which is a big prize for female researchers — and he's like, 'Aren't you offended about getting a prize only for women?' And I was like, 'No, there are prizes for geniuses under 40, is that insulting just because you're in the category of young?'
On Israel's male army cliques:
Most of the startups here start from the army, and most of the technology units are only young men. I was in those interviews. You get women who are less interested in taking a computer and looking at what's inside, less interested in technical things. They're more interested in the intelligence side, to be more social, things like that.
Usually [startups are formed by] guys in the army who program together for two or three years, become really good friends and they're set.
On the perks of a female presence in the office:
Female managers are much better than male managers. Especially when you get high-tech people, and they have problems with social communication. And then you have someone who can mitigate that. I see a lot of really good female managers. I was nicer than many other people — it was easier to work with me than many others. And I think that many women are less ego-driven, and it's easier to work with someone who doesn't have a lot of ego. When you need to clash, if you do it really aggressively, it really hurts the ego of the other person much more if it's a guy. You need to find more subtle ways of getting [what you want].
The thing is, if you're a successful man, people are like, 'Oh, he's successful.' If you have the same characteristics as a woman, they're like, 'She's too aggressive. She's bitchy.' In Microsoft, there were a lot of female managers, and you see directors as well, and project managers. In startups — I actually don't know any woman in a startup.
On gender-role reinforcement at a young age:
If you grow up with someone all the time telling you, 'Oh, you're a girl, you're not going to be good at that,' then you're going to believe in that. When you start studying, no one actually knows whether they're going to be good or bad in something. So you usually go to where the people who are most like you go. So men naturally go where there are more men, and women go where there are more women. Because you don't even know if you're going to be good at math, right? So you don't even try.
On sexual harassment in high-tech:
There are always cases when someone hits on you or something like that. It never happened to me until I was like 23, 24. In the army I worked with people in very crowded places, and we had to share everything, spend days and nights together, and it never happened to me. When I was 23, 24, I was with much more adults. I didn't even know that they were hitting on me until my friend told me, 'Didn't you notice he was doing something wrong?' And I was like, 'No, I thought he was kidding.' Just like remarks about different things — at the beginning I thought those remarks were just like, laughing. I don't usually take those things seriously. But she was sitting next to me and she was like, 'Listen, those things tend to develop.' Which was good. Because that's not fair. This is business. If you want that kind of relationship, go have fun with somebody else.
On the strategy behind her company, SalesPredict:
We're in the business of sales automation. So currently, each company that sells something has a sales department. And the way they work today, they get huge lists of people, and they start calling them, like: 'Hello, do you want to buy our computer?' And then a huge process of maybe 12 steps starts — 'Oh, you agree, maybe bring your manager,' or 'Oh cool, do you want to see our demo?' — until you get to a point where he actually buys. [Before SalesPredict], this field of automation was actually the point where the only thing salespeople have is data storage. They can document what you did, what you said in the conversation, but nothing to do with anything smarter or more intelligent.
This is where we come in. So instead of calling and talking to all the people who are going to hang up on you, or drop the sale just before they pay, we're going to bring in our predictive analytics and try to predict who's the person that's trying to buy from you; whether it's good for you to invest your time in him; what are the actions that you need to do to make him actually buy. Because they already document so many other previous sales, we take that, we mine that and we try to find patterns. We try to find the DNA of the perfect customer, based on different characteristics of the people who completed the sales in the past. Plus, we add to that information we find about the person on the web.
We get information like: Where did this person work before, what did he do on our website, things like that. We take all the prompts we can get, and our algorithms are actually smart enough to select the ones that have correlation with whether you're buying or not. So for some people, it's not interesting what they like on Facebook or not. But for other customers, it is important.
We're not going into people's houses and stealing their stuff. Whatever we have is public, and some of those companies already have information about you. Maybe they have a trial version, and you played with it a little bit, so they have some information about the interactions you had with the system. Are you a smarter user, a simpler user, things like that. Here's the thing: There's so much information, and nobody's using it.
I see our stuff as the brain on top of the sales system. We actually help the salesperson make more sales. We tell them exactly the actions that they need to take.
On her company's recent move to a hip, modern office building in Herzliya:
Before this, we worked in a cowshed. Like, where you grow cows. It was an abandoned cowshed — one of my founders owns a community [farm] in Kfar Haim where they grow vegetables and cows. So we were there, and then we moved here just like a few months ago. It's just totally different.
On being mistaken for the SalesPredict secretary:
All the time when I need to do all this bureaucracy of passing money from one place to another, people always think I'm the secretary. If [SalesPredict CEO Yaron Zakai-Or] is doing that, he's the CEO. If I'm doing that, I'm the secretary. And I'm getting it especially from women, not men. I was going to get this discount for lunches when we were living in the cowshed, and I was going to the kibbutz, and I was like, 'Maybe you can give us a discount, let's talk about that.' And the lady was like, 'What is your role in the company? Are you the secretary, or managing the money?' And I was like, 'No, actually, I'm the CTO, I'm doing the technology kind of stuff.' And she's like, 'Oh.'
On why so many female techies in Israel have Russian roots:
I think that a lot of people who come from a communist environment, there was no difference between men and women — everyone has to work. And because Israel was established on traditional [gender] roles in the beginning — people who came from North Africa, and even from Europe, are more traditional in that sense — I see a lot of moms who don't work. In the States, you see it all the time. How can it be that you don't work? What do you DO?
[In Russian families], nobody expects less. You're not required to do less. That's the thing. And in Russia, engineers are more respected, especially in Jewish families. It's considered something more stable. You're not going to go into literature because engineering is something very concrete. You can make a career out of it. There's very pragmatic thinking about that kind of thing. If your parents tell you, 'Don't go too far,' then why try? I was always encouraged, and told that being mediocre is the worst thing you can do.
On her glamorous new life as a startup celebrity:
I'm a simple dresser. I was interviewed by Lady Globes, and they brought like a stylist, and a makeup artist, and a photographer and all of these clothes. They brought Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana. I can show you the images — it was insane. I didn't recognize myself. And they were like, 'I want you to show power in your face.' And I thought, 'What does that mean, power in your face?'
October 17, 2013 | 8:30 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
A Hezbollah-run news network called Al Manar reportedly ran photos yesterday of a hawk that had been circling over Lebanon. The bird was outfitted with apparent spy equipment, claimed Hezbollah, and an ankle bracelet linking it to Tel Aviv University.
But who is the bird behind the armor?
Prof. Yossi Leshem, a top bird scientist (ornithologist) at Tel Aviv University who sounded a bit flustered today, explained that the extremely rare Bonelli's Eagle shot down in Lebanon yesterday and dragged back to Hezbollah headquarters was an innocent victim of wrong-place-wrong-time.
"Unfortunately, this bird made the stupid mistake of moving to Lebanon, where it was shot down by one of Lebanon's 400,000 hunters," he said.
As we can see in the body shots from Al Manar, the bird was implanted with a radio antenna that can be detected by satellite, which — according to Leshem — Israeli researchers were using to track its hunting and breeding activity. The eagle is one of about 10 of its kind in Israel — "a young one from this year," said Leshem. He was hatched and spent an idyllic youth at the Carmel Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, a 1,500-acre breeding and reacclimation center in the Carmel mountains of northern Israel, before venturing off on his own into the cruel skies of the Middle East.
Before Israel was established, said Leshem, there were about 65 pairs of Bonelli's Eagles living in the country. But in the process of building up Israel's agricultural sector, pioneering Zionist farmers poisoned the birds in an effort to preserve their crops. (So I guess we can't just blame Lebanon for everything.)
The Tel Aviv University professor added that he is currently leading a project in collaboration with researchers from Jordan and Palestine, and has enlisted some of the Palestinians on the team to reach out to the Lebanese Society for the Protection of Nature to tell them what's up.
But this is no isolated incident. Turns out the latest casualty of Israel paranoia in the Middle East is just one in a long line of unfortunate souls. There's a robust Wikipedia entry called "Israel-related animal conspiracy theories." Steven Colbert ran a giddy segment on the trend in 2011. And in a July 2013 press release prepared by Prof. Leshem himself (I'm pretty sure he gets an annoying flood of interview requests every time one of these "spies" is shot down), he wrote in frustration:
The same story repeats its self time and time again for the past decade!
Every time a migrating bird from Israel, carrying a satellite transmitter or a ring, is captured by one of the neighboring countries, it is immediately thought to be the instrument of a sophisticated spy work by the Israeli Mossad.
Other suspected Israeli spies have included: A Common Kestrel and a European Bee-Eater in Turkey, two Egyptian Vultures and a pelican in Sudan, a Griffon Vulture in Saudi Arabia, a Common Kestrel and a wolf in Jordan, a school of sharks and a stork in Egypt and a Barn Owl in Syria. Of these, a few were stripped of their spy gear and released after X-ray inspection proved they could do no more harm.
The young Bonelli's Eagle who recently strayed to Lebanon, however, may not be so lucky. Guess that's just the price you pay for trying to uphold the legacy of your near-extinct species in a land where human tribalism trumps all, and anklets with Israeli brand names are the ultimate mark of death.
In conclusion: Unless you still believe the Israeli Mossad is on a "so stupid its smart" mission to spy on Hezbollah via inconspicuous feathered bird-drone, and enlisted scientists at Tel Aviv University to play along, let's agree to consider the theory debunked, yes?
October 16, 2013 | 3:15 pm
Posted by Simone Wilson
Could it be coincidence that the same week Facebook and Amazon announce they're coming to Israel — and the same week Tel Aviv throws its most dazzling high-tech conference yet — we learn that the Startup Nation is raking in more dough than it has since the dot-com bubble burst?
The IVC Research Center, the go-to source for data on Tel Aviv tech, reports today that in the third quarter of 2013, Israeli high-tech companies "raised $660 million from local and foreign investors, the highest quarterly amount since 2000."
That's a whopping 34 percent increase from last quarter, and a 35 percent increase from the same quarter last year.
I'm tempted to suspect this is Tel Aviv's most elaborate hasbara plot yet — perhaps to distract from this month's dirty mayoral race, or Tel Aviv University's recently outed TERRORIST SPY EAGLE — but the numbers kind of speak for themselves. Hasbara never came so easy. In fact, so blinded is Mashable by the city's Midas touch that reporter Todd Wasserman has come to believe that Tel Aviv has replaced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel:
Tel Aviv, Israel's capital and the site of much of the activity, was named the No. 2 startup ecosystem in the world, next to Silicon Valley, according to researcher Startup Genome. There are said to be 5,000 startups in the country, which has a population around 7 million.
Not sure about 5,000, but no doubt — Tel Aviv has startups coming out its ears. For a full visual of startup mania around here, I suggest you refer to this handy map of all Israeli startups, as compiled by an Israeli startup.
Naturally, local Zionists (or at least Tel Avivists, which is really becoming a whole new race/religion) are slo-mo basking in the victory. Yossi Vardi, widely recognized as the forefather of Startup Nation, told the Wall Street Journal that this week's annual Digital-Life-Design (DLD) Tel Aviv conference attracted a record 1,100 foreigners, and has set Rothschild Boulevard a-swarm with excited techies, coming together to share ideas and plan the future at hip bars and rooftop events.
"The city is on steroids," Vardi told the paper.
And here I thought I felt electricity on the air when Google bought Israeli traffic app Waze for upward of $1 billion earlier this summer. Now I'm afraid to set foot outside. At this brogrammer gentrification rate, Tel Aviv-Yafo — and its going rate for one-bedroom apartments — will be the spitting image of greater San Francisco in no time.
Please excuse the stereotype. See, it might be Tel Aviv tech's Best Week Ever, but there's still one problem:
“Here in Israel, no one really talks about” the absence of women in high tech, said Ranit Fink, vice president of business development for hot Israeli startup Cellrox — another rare female success story in the startup nation. “It’s just not on the agenda.”
October 14, 2013 | 7:15 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
Tel Aviv, meet Facebook. Facebook, Tel Aviv.
Well, not exactly Tel Aviv. Israeli tech startup Onavo announced today that it had been acquired by Facebook — for a reported $150 million to $200 million — and that "Onavo’s Tel-Aviv office will remain open for business and will become Facebook’s new Israeli office." And according to a FourSquare check-in by one of Onavo's co-founders, its office is located on Derech Aba Hillel Street in Ramat Gan, a somewhat nicer and sleepier satellite city just inland from Tel Aviv. Formerly a farming community that grew wheat, barley and watermelons, Ramat Gan is now home to Israel's diamond exchange and a significant slice of the country's booming tech industry.
Onavo develops mobile apps that let smartphone and tablet users track and reduce the amount of Internet data they use each month, thus helping lower their data charges.
The Google Maps screenshot below appears to show the Onavo building in Ramat Gan. [Update: A previous version of this post identified a nearby building on Habonim Street as the location of the Onavo offices, but the startup apparently moved to this much snazzier high-rise last year.]
"I can confirm for you that Onavo will remain in their offices in Tel Aviv and the offices will become Facebook's offices in Israel," said a Facebook spokesperson over email. "These are Facebook's first offices in Israel."
Onavo co-founders Guy Rosen and Roi Tiger threw up a celebratory post to their official blog today, indicating that Onavo's integration into Facebook has everything to do with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's new initiative to make the Internet (and therefore Facebook) more accessible to less privileged areas of the world. Their joint statement:
We are excited to announce that Facebook has agreed to acquire our company.
Three years ago, we started Onavo with the goal of helping today’s technology consumers and companies work more efficiently in a mobile world. We developed the award-winning Onavo mobile utility apps, and later launched Onavo Insights, the first mobile market intelligence service based on real engagement data. Our service helps people save money through more efficient use of data, and also helps developers, large and small, design better experiences for people.
We’ve built world-class products and a remarkably talented team which has pioneered important breakthroughs in data compression technology and mobile analytics. Today, we’re eager to take the next step and make an even bigger impact by supporting Facebook’s mission to connect the world.
As you know, Facebook and other mobile technology leaders recently launched Internet.org, formalizing Facebook’s commitment to improving access to the internet for the next 5 billion people — this is a challenge we’re also passionate about.
We’re excited to join their team, and hope to play a critical role in reaching one of Internet.org’s most significant goals – using data more efficiently, so that more people around the world can connect and share. When the transaction closes, we plan to continue running the Onavo mobile utility apps as a standalone brand. As always, we remain committed to the privacy of people who use our application and that commitment will not change.
We are incredibly proud of the talented team we have assembled, and, recognizing this, Onavo’s Tel-Aviv office will remain open for business and will become Facebook’s new Israeli office.
We’ll continue to advance the work we are doing in collaboration with Facebook’s great team. Thank you to everyone who has joined us on this journey. We’d like to extend a special thanks to our investors, who believed in us and in our vision from the early days. We’re excited for what’s next.
Facebook apparently couldn't stand to be out-Israeled by Google, who acquired social-media traffic app Waze, based in the Ra'anana tech suburb above Tel Aviv, just a few months back. With Onavo, Facebook has finally claimed its own slice of the Startup Nation. And it took them long enough: Even Apple, whose products are generally shunned by tech-savvy Israelis and whose obsession with form-over-function kind of goes against everything Israeli techies stand for, opened its third research and development (R&D) center in Ra'anana earlier this year.
Facebook previously acquired two Israeli startups — Snaptu and Face.com — but, despite hopeful predictions that the social-media giant would open an R&D center in Israel through one of these companies, Facebook instead just hauled them stateside. Makes you wonder: Could losing the war for Waze to Google have taught Zuckerberg and Co. a lesson about separating Israeli brainchildren from the motherland?
According to Ha'aretz, 30 out of Onavo's 40 employees currently sit in its Israel office. (The rest work in Palo Alto.) I've contacted Facebook to find out if the Onavo office in Ramat Gan will be growing at all, in light of this long-overdue union.
[Update, October 17: Facebook never got back to me on that, but the company did hold a massive developer forum in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, where Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, announced: "We actually see Israel as an absolute hot spot for innovation. You bring together the greatest creativity... almost anywhere on the planet.” So, outlook good. And on a more serious note, I can't believe I forgot to embed Israeli President Shimon Peres' impossibly adorable dubstep video from spring 2012 about joining Facebook, entitled "Be My Friend for Peace." More of this, please, Mr. President.]
October 13, 2013 | 6:00 am
Posted by Simone Wilson
Between 30,000 and 35,000 people reportedly showed up to Rabin Square on Saturday night in northern Tel Aviv to memorialize former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in the square by a religious, right-wing zealot 18 years ago for his role in negotiating peace with the Palestinians.
Those numbers are a significant improvement from last year, when the turnout hit a record low of an estimated 20,000 — down from 300,000 right after Rabin's murder, to about 100,000 by 2006. But just like last year, the media is bemoaning the slow and torturous death of Rabin's symbolic legacy — that of true democracy and peace in Israel — under an increasingly conservative Israeli government and society.
I can't say I didn't come away with a similar despair from last night's "rally." Because the event is now organized by a coalition of Israeli youth groups, the majority of the crowd appeared to be under 18: Thousands of baby-faces in scout uniforms spent the night gossiping from clique to clique, elbowing their crushes and texting their friends across the square. And theme-wise, direct calls for peace with the Palestinians were largely replaced with a focus on togetherness and democracy within Israel proper. (The coalition of youth groups even changed the longtime slogan of the rally from "Yes to peace, no to violence" to "Remembering the murder, fighting for democracy.") The most emotional moment of the event, tellingly, came at the tail end, when an angelic choir sang the Israeli national anthem to a swaying crowd.
But if you're looking for hope in modern Israel, the annual memorial rally at Rabin Square is still the largest gathering you can find with the highest concentration of open minds. Yonatan Ben Artzi, Rabin's grandson, stole the night this year when he threw a peace dart directly at current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “My grandfather was murdered over peace, and you owe us all peace," said Ben Artzi in Hebrew. "You have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the world situation for peace. It won’t be easy or popular. But it’s your time to close a circle and bring us peace." Documentary footage of Rabin was projected onto a huge white screen that hung over the crowd; if you closed your eyes, it almost sounded like he was live on stage, shouting: "This is the only battle that is a pleasure to wage — the battle for peace."
And between the swarms of scouts, a diverse spectrum of individuals in attendance did make for some enlightening conversation. Below are eight very different characters I found roaming Rabin Square last night, each one of them memorializing the peacenik prime minister's death according to his or her own hopes for modern Israel.
Nir Nader, 48, pictured here with his daughter, is the coordinator for the Tel Aviv branch of the Workers Advice Center, a nonprofit that helps stand up for migrant and minority workers in Israel. He came to the rally with City Without Borders, a fringe political party that's pushing a couple different candidates in the Tel Aviv municipal election this month.
Nader remembered attending the peace rally in this same square on November 4, 1995 — the night of Rabin's assassination. At the time, he said, he was optimistic. "I thought in those days that the agreement that Rabin brought was for peace," said Nader. However, in the years since, the Tel Aviv activist said he came to realize that Rabin's efforts had been a far cry from a workable peace agreement — and the failure of the Left to fight for Rabin's ideas after the murder, to push them while the topic was still hot, showed that there had never been enough momentum for peace in the first place.
Still, said Nader, "It was an opportunity. History is giving us few opportunities. And if you miss them, they are not coming back."
Yam Lerer, 15, pictured far right, is a high-schooler from Ashdod — one of the southern Israeli cities hit most heavily by terrorist rockets in the conflict with Gaza last November. She came to the Rabin memorial rally through Working and Learning Youth, and wore the organization's blue uniform along with a group of her friends.
Lerer said the rally served to "show the country that after Rabin, we never give up on democracy, because [his murder] stopped democracy." When asked what lessons we could learn from Rabin today, she focused more on his death than his life. "Before he was killed, people said that he needed to die and stuff — things that happen not in democracy," she said. "These are things that happen when one man controls everything."
The young activist was hesitant, however, to push Rabin's message of peace. She said there was "no way to compare" the Rabin Administration to the Netanyahu Administration, adding that a two-state solution "is complicated because I don't know what would happen if we have two states. I mean, if we both will have big armies and fight all the time, that's not [good]."
Shilo Fried, 19, lives in Efrat, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank situated between Bethlehem and Hebron. (He argued, however, that all Israeli cities are technically settlements, and that his is no more radical than, say, Netanya or Herzliya.)
Although Fried said that he did not agree with many of Rabin's opinions, he decided to attend the rally last night because the killing of any Israeli prime minister is an "unacceptable" threat to democracy. He said he believes that Israelis must continue to fight through their differences through dialogue, not violence. "We must come here every year and make sure that doesn't happen again," he said in Hebrew.
But that's where his devotion to Rabin's legacy ends. "Rabin was trying to give back areas that are part of Israel by our birthright from the Bible," Fried said in Hebrew, adding that Rabin's efforts made Israel look weak and would have caused more terrorist attacks, had they succeeded. And the young settler said he's equally unhappy about the current negotiations between Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority, because the Palestinians are "no partner" for peace.
"Those areas belong to us, and God doesn't give us the right to give them to someone else," he said.
Iman Abu Kean, 23, pictured left, is an Arab-Israeli who lives on a moshav, or farming community, near Beersheba in southern Israel. She said she started attending the annual Rabin rallies in Tel Aviv when she was part of the Working and Studying Youth group while in school, and has continued to come on her own, as she wants to "make good relations between Jews and Arabs."
Although she was too young when Rabin died to remember him, Kean said she admires the iconic Israeli politician because "he loved the peace, and he wanted to make peace between Jews and Arabs, and equality," she said in broken Hebrew. Under Rabin, she said, peace was a real possibility.
When asked if she thought peace was possible again under Netanyahu, Kean giggled, and her friends joined in. "I want it," she said, "but it's too hard by now."
Ari Egar, 19, pictured right, and Sara Sharpe, 18, pictured left, are North Americans currently working on a kibbutz through a program run by the youth group Dror Israel.
"Rabin is a lead figure for the fight for peace," said Egar, who's from Burbank in L.A. County. And although he believes Netanyahu is a long way from the negotiating point that Rabin had reached when he was murdered —"I feel like the government could be trying a lot harder than it is right now," he said — Egar still has hope that Israel can move toward an era of peace.
"I've met a lot of people in Israel who don't have the same opinion on peace as I do," he said. "But I try to surround myself with people who want to make that change."
Sharpe, a Canadian from British Columbia, said she admired Rabin's "dedication to peace even when there was a lot of opposition against him." And unfortunately, after he was murdered, "I think there was kind of an abandonment of his cause," she said.
Mutasim Ali, 26, is an asylum seeker from Darfur who lives in South Tel Aviv, along with 10s of thousands of other Africans who have migrated to Israel to escape the oppressive regimes in Sudan and Eritrea. He came to the rally under the banner of left-wing political party City Without Borders (just like Nir Nader, above). He's also on the board of directors for the African Refugee Development Center, located inside the notorious Tel Aviv Central Bus Station.
"The reason Rabin was killed was because he was fighting for justice in this country," said Ali. "He wanted a democratic state — where Arabs, Jewish, Ethiopians and all are equal, regardless of their origin."
Ali went on to explain that today, these same principles should apply to the African migrants in South Tel Aviv. "Rabin believed in dignity; he wanted everybody that goes to work to feel respected in this world," said the Darfurian activist. "And in terms of asylum seekers, there is something that needs to be very clear: They came looking for protection. They want to give back to their country. ... There is an opportunity to make some changes here, if we believe in the vision of Rabin."
Yehuda Shein, pictured third from left in the dark tie and top hat, is an ultra-Orthodox activist who founded the Equality Now movement to fight against the discrimination of Haredis by secular Israel. (Shein preferred not to give his age.) He and three fellow Haredis held up a banner that read, "Peace starts within: Haredis and non-religious refuse to be enemies." At one point, a group of energetic young boy scouts ran up behind the Haredi activists and posed for photos with them, grinning and holding up peace signs.
Shein said in Hebrew that he came to the Rabin rally to "try to make sure a situation like that against an Israeli prime minister never happens again."
And one step toward non-violence, he said, is patching up the ever-deepening divide between the religious and non-religious in Israel. "The more tears, and the more anger, between different minorities and groups in Israel," including the Palestinians, Shein said, will only lead to more anti-democratic uses of force like the one against Rabin in 1995. He explained that his organization seeks to "create dialogue and conversation between the people — human-to-human, not through politicians — to make more of a community in Israel."