Five for Friday

Not quite a full week back in a routine, but a damn good start. And the same could be said about progress towards getting rid of the jet-lag. I am fine getting up in the morning, but mid afternoon my body decides to play silly buggers with me, and tell me it’s time for bed. Travel. I hate it. Except the arriving bit.

Talking about arriving, we have arrived again at the weekend. The perfect boost to recovery, and the best preparation for a week of routine. To the extent that anything is ever routine in Israel. But it is, therefore, time for the regular set of links, and here they are:

Shabbat Shalom!

Lost in flight

I’m connected to the web, browsing away, when this advert appears slap bang in the middle of the Globes (English language version of their) home page:


The definition of a total waste.

(I’m not quite sure why it thinks my native language is German, but whatever the language, there will not be many Emirates flights sold to Israeli browsers of the internet.)

Fleeing Ra’anana

This, from Globes, is interesting:

Israelis leaving big cities

Israelis are bucking a global trend by moving into smaller communities.

Migration figures are an important measure for any community. A city losing its population is a signal that something in the municipal cost-benefit equation is not working.

Cities and communities that are adding new families, on the other hand, are showing that they can be attractive to many Israelis, even if those new families are going there to live because they cannot afford the cost of living anywhere else.

According to figures recently published by the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of Construction and Housing, Israelis are fleeing the large cities, in absolute contrast to the global urbanization trend strengthening the world’s largest cities. Israel’s five largest cities, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon Lezion, and Ashdod, where a quarter of Israel’s population (two million people) lives, had negative migration in 2010-2013. Other than Haifa, each of these cities also had negative net migration in 2009.

Of Israel’s 40 largest cities (with 40,000 or more residents), only 17 had positive net migration in 2013. In 16 cities, containing 40% of Israel’s population, net migration was negative in each of the years from 2009 through 2013.

It seems that despite the distinctly urban lifestyle of most Israelis, and even though the big cities offer a broad range of housing solutions, educational institutions, culture, employment centers, etc., something there is just not working. The high price of housing in those cities, the absence of adequate construction solutions, and perhaps economic and social temptations in other cities are drawing people away.

Now, here’s where it comes closer to home:

Fleeing Ra’anana

For some reason, size has become a disadvantage in the Israeli way of life. Other than Petah Tikva, all the cities with 100,000 or more residents are losing people. Even Tel Aviv, which has so many attractions to offer, saw 22,500 people leave in 2013, while only 20,500 moved to the city (legal residents, of course; thousands of immigrants come to the city who are not legally registered in it). 18,000 Israelis left Jerusalem in 2013, while only 10,500 moved there.

Ra’anana has the largest negative migration in Israel, losing almost 2% of its population yearly: 15-18 out of every thousand residents. The fact that the city is currently almost aggressively promoting construction in the framework of National Outline Plan 38, and is building large neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city (Neve Zemer, to contain 3,500 apartments) indicates an attempt to reverse the trend, and perhaps to combat the high prices in the city (according to Ministry of Construction and Housing figures, a new four-room apartment in Ra’anana costs an average of NIS 2.14 million) that drive away many of its residents and making it difficult for other Israelis to settle there.

In stark contrast, Kfar Saba, which is right next to Ra’anana, is the leader in positive migration. Massive construction in the city and the relatively cheap alternative it provides to the other Sharon area cities (a new four-room apartment there costs an average of NIS 1.83 million) are making Kfar Saba the preferred option for many families. Just behind it, Hod Hasharon (NIS 1.82 million on the average for a new four-room apartment) has also been waiting patiently far from the limelight (certainly in comparison with its prestigious neighbor, Ramat Hasharon), and has also consistently shown positive net migration in recent years.

While Kfar Saba is the popular alternative in the Sharon area, in the northern outlying areas this role is played by Afula.

Points to ponder:

  • There’s anecdotal evidence of more French immigrants settling in Ra’anana. Will that reverse the trend when the next set of statistics come out, or are they just taking up some of the slack?
  • It’s difficult to know what drives the huge difference in property prices between Ra’anana and Kfar Saba. They are, literally, across the road from one another. There are a much higher percentage of Anglo immigrants in Ra’anana. Is that the driver?  Why?
  • The mayor of Ra’anana has recently introduced a new tax needed to fund infrastructure repairs. The drop in population may have contributed to the need for this new source of money.
  • It’s also difficult to see how the huge construction ongoing in Ra’anana is going to reduce prices. The recently completed development next to ours is more than half empty, but there is no sign of a drop in prices. Either the builders are well capitalized, or the bank have taken over, and will just wait, and wait.
  • I can see why Petah Tikva is attractive; the housing is more modern, and there’s a real communal buzz about the place. However, like most Israeli cities, the road infrastructure struggles to cope with the volume of traffic.

Home from Arizona

The sad part of Consimworld Expo is the end, in particular coming in to the normally packed main room, and seeing bare tables. Where did all those great games go? Like me, they went home.

I flew back with one stopover at Heathrow. Because I was flying British Airways throughout, I did not have to change terminal. I did a bit of shopping and chilled, before getting on the final flight.

It’s noticeable the different security approach between BA and El Al. For example, connecting to an El Al flight into Tel Aviv, they make you identify your luggage and do a security interview. Not with BA. I can better understand why people prefer to fly El Al, though sometimes the El Al prices are obscenely high.

Coming in to Tel Aviv late on Monday night, I saw this large traffic jam. I wondered what it was at so late an hour. Perhaps a concert? On the taxi back from the airport, I found out. They are doing resurfacing work to Kvish Arba (Road Four) and, despite it being well after midnight, the traffic jam was horrendous. The taxi driver did the usual trick of going down the wrong lane, and cutting in to the right lane at the last minute. He then complained when somebody did the same to him!

It’s good to be home.


Five for Friday

I can only say that if the week goes by quickly when I am in Israel, it goes by even quicker when I am at Consimworld Expo. But it’s here, and I need to offer the usual selection of links, even if only to show that I do recognize there is life beyond gaming. So, here they are:

Shabbat Shalom!

The longest wait is forever

The Queen is on an official trip to Germany – a visit that will include a stop at a concentration camp. The headline set me thinking about why the Queen has never made a visit to Israel. Such members of the Royal Family that have visited, have always done so with officialdom stressing – and stressing, and stressing, and stressing – that the visit was a personal one. So, the question is not only, why hasn’t the Queen visited Israel? Why hasn’t any member of the Royal Family made an official visit to Israel?

During her reign, the Queen has made official visits to many countries in the Middle East, including:

  • Bahrain
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates

Despots, dictators, racists, and terrorist supporters. Apparently it’s OK to visit those countries. But Israel…

So what’s the problem with Israel?

  • Is the Royal Family antisemitic?
  • Is the Royal Family anti-Israel?
  • Is the Royal Family prevented by the Arabists at the Foreign Office from going on an official visit to Israel?

Whatever the reason, it’s an excuse, and a rude state of affairs that contributes to the demonization and delegitimization of Israel.

Who will call them out on this? Or are we waiting in vain?

Theater of the absurd

The UN, and all its offshoots, strikes me as a theater of the absurd. The totalitarian regimes criticize the democracies. The torturers and abusers of human rights assail those who value life, liberty, and freedom. And the terrorists (and their sponsors, useless idiots, and ideological bedfellows) accuse those fighting terrorism of being war criminals. While that theater does, occasionally, put on a good and proper show (ie, does something right that actually contributes something) that does not excuse the unintentional farces that form the bulk of its promoted output.

As an aside, while transferring flights in Heathrow Terminal Five, I saw a lot of adverts for the work of the UN. Really? The UN needs to spend money on advertising? How the hell does that contribute meaningfully to its aims. It seems like a total waste. (Not unlike the UN itself.)

It will therefore come as no surprise, that I join with those who sharply criticize and denounce the latest output from that body, the UNHCR report on the last Gaza conflict. There is so much to be said, and not enough time, but even if only for my own sake, I wanted to highlight the following commentaries:

We may not want to buy a program for the Theater of the Absurd. But we can still critique the performances.

President Rivlin and President Obama

First, some background.

To most objective observers, Arutz Sheva is on the right of the political spectrum in Israel. The far right to some. It is not mainstream, and so far as I can tell from anecdotal evidence, has a somewhat restricted audience.

It occasionally publishes worthwhile material, but such as with the venomous Guardian, you need to wade through a lot of dross.

And in that regard, it is important to note that so often as is practically possible, I try not to ‘shoot the messenger.’ In other words, I want to look at the story, check the facts, and think about it for myself, before I reject something just because it has been written by a particular person, or published in a particular place.

Now down to business.

President Rivlin has some tough shoes to fill. Peres seemed to be able to step between the cracks most nimbly. Rivlin has made a decent start, but with one or two cracks very definitely stood on. For example, his encounter with the Conservative religious movement was not handled well. On the other hand, I thought he was statesmanlike with the issue of discrimination against the Ethiopians.

Rivlin won’t cowtow to Bibi, and on several occasions has said things that put hime in direct conflict with the Prime Minister. So Bibi’s supporters are not always Rivlin supporters.

Arutz Sheva has an article about Rivlin’s marking of Jordanian Independence Day:


If you read the article, you will get the flavor of Arutz Sheva’s dislike of Rivlin or the Jordanians or both. Some of the points made are valid. But it is not fair to criticize Rivlin for being a diplomat and avoiding controversy. There was no need for Rivlin to create a storm by rubbing the Jordanians’ noses in it. However, I do hope that in private sessions, Rivlin will make clear how Israel views some of the nonsense Jordan has been getting up to.

But if you view the Arutz Sheva home page, you will see how somebody has decided to add a telling caption to the synopsis:


You may take it that “Our own Obama?” is not an indication of respect for either Obama or Rivlin. It is telling that people with this political viewpoint are trying to suggest Rivlin may be as bad as Obama. (And if the leaks from Michael Oren’s new book are half true, Obama has been bad, bad, bad towards Israel.) This little mark is a useful reminder of the issues that loom large in Israeli politics. Here there are also undercurrents of racism or Islamaphobia: Rivlin is like Obama because he is sympathetic, or not at war with Islam the religion. And in these quarters, that’s not a plus.

There’s nothing significant in the events reported on, but it is probably material that Rivlin can expect this type of comparison (and insult!) from the right. He won’t care, for now. But he will know these are the risks of being in his role. One veteran Israeli told me that Rivlin will do whatever he thinks is right (correct!) regardless of the criticism, and will make efforts to take the Israeli public with him. Clearly that includes the Arab citizens. So his remarks about Islam are not just window dressing.

Definitely a case of ‘watch this space’ for further developments.

Stop the bus!

Source: Valtteri Päivinen/WikiMedia

Source: Valtteri Päivinen/WikiMedia

The scene pictured above is about to be replicated on the streets of Israel. Yes, according to this report in Globes, double-decker buses are set to make a return.

The Ministry of Transport is set to carry out a trial of advanced buses with Egged and Dan.

After a very long absence, double-decker buses are set to make a comeback on Israel’s roads this year.

The National Public Transport Authority in the Ministry of Transport is to carry out a pilot study in which about five double-decker buses will be bought for a trial on Egged and Dan urban routes.

Over a decade ago, Egged was using double-decker buses from Neoplan on inter-city routes, but because of recurring operational problems they were abandoned. The new trial will be of more advanced buses currently designed for urban use only, and among other things the option is being examined of buses with hybrid power systems.

If the trial succeeds, these buses could represent a good solution to the problems of public transport at peak traffic times, with a near-double passenger capacity, the same area on the road, and about half the air pollution, of the single-decker buses currently in use.

Given my experience of being a passenger in a single-decker bus, I doubt I want to try a journey in the double-decker variety…