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Israeli Kibbutzism Contain Startling Businesses – and Drive the ‘Start-Up Nation’

The lobby of Tel Aviv’s stock exchange. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Israeli economy was booming in 2023. According to International Monetary Fund figures, total GDP had reached $664 billion, and per capita GDP hit $58,270 — the 13th highest in the world.

Hamas’ vicious attack on Israel changed that, as Reuters reported that after months of war, the Israeli economy contracted significantly during the fourth quarter of 2023. However, even with fighting continuing, we can hope for a strong economic rebound, as thousands of reservists return to their normal lives.

The Israeli technology sector accounts for the majority of Israel’s exports, so it was reassuring to see that Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest generic drug company in the world, reported that the war has not affected manufacturing.

The approximately 270 kibbutzim in Israel comprise only a tiny fraction of the population, but account for 10 percent of industrial production. Kibbutzim in the south bore the brunt of the genocidal Hamas attack, and those in the north are coping with rocket attacks from Hezbollah. So I wondered how another Israeli technology company, this one based on a kibbutz, was making out.

Kibbutz Shamir, founded by Romanian Holocaust survivors in 1944, is located in Upper Galilee at the western edge of the Golan Heights. Shamir Optical began to manufacture eyeglass lenses in 1972, as part of the effort by kibbutzim to diversify from agriculture

Shamir began to manufacture progressive lenses in addition to its existing line of lenses in 1984, and this led to the company’s remarkable innovative success. (Full disclosure, I am a retired professor of Optometry and Vision Science.)

Progressive lenses have been around since the late 1950s and early 1960s. They are used to correct presbyopia, a universal human condition associated with aging, in which the lens inside the eye becomes less flexible and is unable to change shape to enable light rays from near objects, such as reading material, to focus on the retina.

The first bifocals, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, consisted of a split lens, with an upper half for distance vision and the lower half for near. However, in 1959, a French engineer, Bernard Maitenaz, working with a French company, Essilor, produced the first progressive lens, in which the prescription varies continuously and there is no bifocal line.

Progressive lenses have to undergo a process of continual redesign and improvement as the visual demands of modern society change. The ability of Shamir Optical to produce valuable algorithms to optimize the manufacture of progressive lenses led, in 2005, to the company being the first kibbutz enterprise listed on the NASDAQ exchange.

In 2011, when Essilor, the world’s largest producer of ophthalmic lenses, bought a 50 percent share of Shamir for $130 million, the company was delisted. Essilor purchased the remaining 50 percent in 2022 for an amount said to be hundreds of millions of dollars. Shamir Optical remains a separate brand, and research and development continues at Kibbutz Shamir. Today, the company, with 2,500 employees in Israel and abroad, operates 18 laboratories worldwide.

In a 2022 interview in The Jerusalem Post, Shamir’s CEO, Yagen Moshe, described how the COVID pandemic forced everyone to become more dependent on computers for communicating. He mentioned two innovations: a lens with an anti-reflective coating called “Expression,” designed to remove unwanted reflections during video calls, as well as the “Autograph Intelligence” lens, a progressive lens tailored to each patient’s visual needs.

However, an even more exciting innovation, announced in the midst of war with Hamas, concerns a lens designed to prevent myopia in children. In myopia, there is a mismatch between eye size and eye focus ,and light rays that enter the eye focus in front of the retina. The prevalence of myopia is increasing rapidly. Today, more than 40 percent of Americans are myopic, and the numbers in Asian countries, such as China and South Korea can be as high as 90 percent.

Shamir Optical has developed a spectacle lens, the “Shamir Optimee,” where the optics of the outer zone of the lens differs from the center, resulting in myopic defocus at the outer (peripheral) retina. A study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology showed that this lens significantly reduces myopia progression in young children. Shamir is not the only company making multifocal lenses for myopia control, but the company’s experience in producing progressive lenses gives it an advantage. Given worldwide concern for the myopia epidemic, this lens may end up as Shamir’s most important innovation.

After the United States, Israel is home to the largest number of start-up companies in the world. In fact, the Israeli kibbutz — a blend of Zionism and socialism — can be thought of as Israel’s first start-up.

In recent decades, the kibbutzim have transitioned from being solely agricultural, to also providing industrial goods and services. A majority of kibbutzim, including Shamir, have also shifted to embrace private ownership and differential salaries, while still trying to protect the ideology of equality as much as possible.

Shamir Optical is not the only kibbutz start-up success. There are many others, such as the drip irrigation system developed by the firm Netafim on Kibbutz Hatzerim, and Plasan, a company on Kibbutz Sasa, that produces armor vehicle protection. Nor is Shamir Optical the only enterprise associated with Kibbutz Shamir. The kibbutz, which has a population of about 900, also generates income from the production of toiletries and honey, as well as from tourism.

Far from being a relic of the past, the idealism, and sense of purpose that characterizes the traditional kibbutz still exists, and enables the kibbutzim of today to compete successfully in the development of new and innovative technologies. The example of Kibbutz Shamir suggests that the current war will not reduce the level of Israeli innovation.

Jacob Sivak, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, is a retired professor, who taught at the University of Waterloo.

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‘Any Chance the Media Would Cover This?’ New Video Shows Terrorists in Gaza Using Humanitarian Aid to Help Prepare Rockets

Terrorists in Gaza using humanitarian aid bags to prop up rockets. Photo: Screenshot

Terrorists in Gaza have been using humanitarian aid bags to prop up rockets they were preparing to shoot at Israelis, new video circulating on social media reveals, underscoring the challenges of delivering aid to Palestinian civilians in the Hamas-ruled enclave without it being stolen.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — which is the armed wing of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbasused bags from Turkey and UNRWA — the UN agency responsible for the Palestinians — to prop up the rockets, according to the video.

At least three of the bags say they contain “wheat flour,” and the bag from Turkey specifically says it is supposed to go “to the Palestinian people.” It is unclear whether the bags had previously been opened to extract the food and then refilled with sand, for example, or if it still contained the food that was intended to feed Palestinian civilians.

“Any chance the media would cover this, yet another violation of international humanitarian law?” pro-Israel commentator Hen Mazzig wrote on X/Twitter while sharing the video.

Rafah, Gaza: Hamas is using UN humanitarian aid bags as rocket launchers today.

Any chance the media would cover this, yet another, violation of International Humanitarian Law?

— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) May 29, 2024

Almost every day for the past seven months, Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist organizations have been shooting rockets into Israel from civilian areas, which is a war crime. Tens of thousands of Israelis are internally displaced and unable to return to their homes as a result.

There is mounting evidence that Hamas has also operated in civilian clothing and in civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. However, these violations of international law are rarely noted by much of the media.

The latest video of terrorists using humanitarian aid for military purposes underscores the issue of making sure such aid gets to Palestinian civilians. 

The US built a pier to deliver 2,000,000 meals daily to Palestinian civilians, but after a few weeks of operation, the Pentagon said none of the aid unloaded from the pier had made it to those who needed it. On one occasion, about 70 percent of the aid has been stolen while en route to a UN warehouse. In other cases, it just never showed up.

Israeli estimates suggest approximately 60 percent of the aid that has gone into Gaza has been stolen — either by Hamas or other groups and individuals. Oftentimes, that aid is then sold to the population at high prices, making it difficult to impossible for most Gazans to gain access to it. 

According to Ehud Yaari, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hamas has made more than $500 million in profit from selling humanitarian aid since Oct. 7.

The terror group began the war last October by massacring 1,200 people in Israel and taking more than 250 people hostage, about half of whom have still not been released.

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Columbia University Anti-Zionist Group Endorses Hamas

Demonstrators take part in an anti-Israel demonstration at the Columbia University campus, in New York City, US, Feb. 2, 2024. REUTERS/David Dee Delgado

Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has endorsed Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization, the latest sign of its growing extremism and willingness to embrace antisemitic violence.

“The Palestinian resistance is the only force materially fighting back against isr*el [sic],” the group said in a series of posts shared by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, a social media account which exposes antisemitism on college campuses. “There is no way to eliminate the resistance without ending the occupation. When you see a video of a young palestinian [sic] boy traumatized in a hospital talking about how iof [the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF] shot his pregnant mother in cold blood in front of his own eyes, do not question how he chooses to resist years later.”

.@Columbia and @BarnardCollege, @ColumbiaSJP is actively promoting terrorism and anti-Israel rhetoric on their social media channels. They are sounding more and more like Hamas spokespeople every day. When is the university going to permanently ban this “student group”?

— Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus (@CampusJewHate) May 26, 2024

Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog which first reported Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus’ posts, noted that Columbia SJP has added an “inverted red triangle” to its social media biography, further indicating its support for Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group has used an inverted red triangle in its propaganda videos to indicate an Israeli target about to be attacked, and anti-Israel protesters on university campuses have been using the symbol in their demonstrations.

Columbia SJP, a group that has reformed under multiple organizations since being suspended by school administrators during the fall semester, has been central in staging a slew of riotous demonstrations in which anti-Zionist activists verbally assaulted Jewish students with antisemitic epithets, clamorously expressed support for terrorism and Hamas, and caused thousands of dollars in damages to school property.

The group’s behavior after Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the StandWithUs Center for League Justice (SCLJ).

The complaint alleges that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, the pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library, according to the lawsuit. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

Following the incidents, pleas for help allegedly went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while SJP held its demonstrations. The school’s apparent powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

The explosion of end-of-year protests held by the group forced Columbia officials to shutter the campus in April and institute virtual learning. Later, the group occupied Hamilton Hall, forcing President Minouche Shafik to call on the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for help, a decision she hesitated to make. According to The Columbia Spectator, over 108 arrests were made.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!”

Amid the chaos, a prominent rabbi at the school urged Jewish students to leave the campus for the sake of their safety. Ultimately, the university cancelled its main commencement ceremony.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Guitarist Eric Clapton Says ‘Israel Is Running the World,’ Criticizes US Hearings on Campus Antisemitism

Eric Clapton during his guest appearance on the YouTube channel “The Real Music Observer” on May 22, 2024. Photo: YouTube screenshot

British singer-songwriter and guitarist Eric Clapton promoted the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Israel runs the world during an interview last week on the YouTube channel “The Real Music Observer.”

The Grammy Award winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, 79, referenced recent US congressional hearings where lawmakers grilled presidents of elite universities about surging antisemitism and rampant anti-Israel demonstrations on their campuses.

“I was so enthused about what was going on at Columbia [University] and everywhere. And then I saw, what I couldn’t believe, because it freaked me out, were the Senate hearings, which were like the Nuremberg trials, you know?” Clapton said during his guest appearance on “The Real Music Observer,” hosted by David Spuria. “The Senate committee would be asking pointed questions to presidents of universities, saying, ‘I just want to hear yes or no. Don’t talk to me about context. Yes or no, are you promoting antisemitism in your college? Yes or no.’ And I thought, what is this, the Spanish Inquisition? And it is! It’s AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], it’s the lobby. Israel is running the show. Israel is running the world.”

The hearings that Clapton referenced were held by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, not a Senate panel.

In November, a little more than a month after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, Clapton released an instrumental song called “Voice of a Child.” The song’s music video features photos from pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rallies around the world as well as images of destruction in the Gaza Strip. The music video completely overlooks the Oct. 7 massacre that sparked the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Clapton has recently been performing with a guitar that he painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag. Talking about the guitar while appearing on “The Real Music Observer,” he said, “We’re doing a thing now on this tour that I wrote originally as a tribute to Jeff Beck [who died in 2023]. I performed it at a tribute concert and then I didn’t play it anymore. But for this tour I’m doing it under a different guise. It’s the same tune, but I devoted it to the situation in Gaza. It’s called ‘Blue Dust’ because that’s what’s probably going to be left there. And I play a guitar that’s painted like the Palestinian flag.”

Clapton is a close friend of former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, who has openly expressed antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiments, and has performed in garments that resemble a Nazi SS officer uniform. Clapton has defended Waters in the past, claiming that people “misinterpret” the latter’s position on Israel, and said last week that it takes “guts” to share political opinions like his.

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