Sunday, November 22, 2009

Intel Inside? Prove It.

Here is a thought experiment. It is Sunday, and various employees of Intel's R&D and consulting facility in Chantilly, VA, just outside of Washington, are working through the week-end. The facility is suddenly surrounded by several thousand evangelical Christians--mainly educated at Regent University, and led by the aged Pat Robertson--who demand that the company shut down the facility, so as not to violate the holy Sabbath. Windows are shattered by rock throwers. State police move in, but do not disband the mobs.

So Intel's senior management go into a huddle. They authorize the local management team to meet with Robertson's representatives, along with representatives from the Virginia governor's office, now in the hands of rightist Republicans. At first Intel threatens to pull out of Virginia. But finally they approve a compromise agreement. The facility can stay open, the agreement states, but the shifts will be reduced. Also, on Sundays, only non-Christians can work there.

Imagine, in this fantasy, what the Intel board would face at the next shareholders' meeting. Or imagine the employee emails the corporation's global "Director of Diversity," Rosalind Hudnell, would be fielding the next morning.

IF YOU HAVEN'T already heard, something quite like this just happened in Jerusalem. A week ago Saturday, Intel's facility on Har Ha'Hotzvim--a technology park in a belt of land near (but not at all in) the burgeoning ultraOrthodox neighborhood of Sanhedria--was surrounded and vandalized by acolytes of various Haredi rabbis, most notably, the leader of Eda, Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss. Intel met with representatives of the Haredi groups, facilitated by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin--both rightists tied to Haredi voters. The Sabbath shift, so the "compromise" stipulates, will be cut from 120 employees to 20. None of them will be Jews. (By the way, this absurd agreement may have satisfied most, but not Rabbi Weiss. His mobs were back yesterday demanding a complete shut down.)

What can Intel's leadership possibly be thinking? Have they lost all sense of who they are, let alone what Intel has meant to Israel? Intel's global sales are roughly equal to Israel's GDP. Intel's billions of dollars of investments in Israel have not only made it the country's largest high-tech employer, but have engendered dozens of entrepreneurial businesses, from software to clean-room building.

Even more important, perhaps, Intel has been something like Israel's most important business school, putting thousands through management and quality training over the years. Its impact on Israel's business culture has been something like MIT and the Sloan School on Cambridge, Mass. It is because they experienced companies like Intel that a new generation of cosmopolitan managers (people who, unlike their parents' generation, know how to listen) has grown up in the "Silicon Wadi" of Tel-Aviv, Herzliya, and Haifa. Indeed, Intel-Israel's former CEO and founder, the legendary Dov Frohman, has a briskly selling book on leadership. My God, if Intel will not stand for ordinary secular norms of human rights in Israel, who will?

PERHAPS THE MOST depressing thing about this affair is the way Intel's management seems to have concluded that this is the price you pay for operating in a Jewish state. Intel's employees chant, "Bum-bum-bum-bum"; employees in the Jewish state are now and then forced to add, "Cheery-beery-bum!" Okay, this may not be the place to go into it, but Intel's decision implicitly capitulates to the notion, so casual among many clueless American Jews, that Israel is a something like a big shtetl, run to a great extent by Halachic rules, rationales, and rabbis. This capitulation is dangerous: to Israeli Arabs, to Palestinians, but above all to Israel's secular citizens who mostly consider themselves Jews in a wholly different way.

Look, last week, on a glorious Friday morning, my wife and I drove to Tel-Aviv and participated in a lively seminar to celebrate a new Hebrew translation of Freud's Moses and Monotheism; in the afternoon, we saw a brilliant, elegiac show about the settlements of the Valley of Jezreel by the Kfar Yehoshua artist, Eli Shamir--our budding Andrew Wyeth. This Hebrew version of the global thing, including a Hebrew version of Intel, is the real reason for this country. You can have Shabbes in Teaneck.

Which is not to say that Intel executives should take sides in a Kulturkampf to decide the historical reasons for Zionism. It is to say that Intel should just have the guts to be itself: to stop pandering, to stop thinking that it shows its tolerance for diversity by surrendering to diversely intolerant people. In fact, a majority of Israelis are counting on the conscience of the world to help them muddle through against Hamas on the one hand, and, on the other, the one-third (and growing) part of the of the Israeli population who want, say, the national orthodox assassin of Yitzhak Rabin to be released from prison. Intel, and all global companies operating in Israel, should be a pillar of (here, I'll say it) Western values. Allow fanatics to push out this pillar, and our souls will die with the Philistines.


Dana said...

Or, intel can stop building facilities in Israel and cut back on their investments there. There are, after all, plenty of other places in the world that would love to have Intel's R&D without the having to deal with religious zealots,a crazy right wing government, and an apartheid state that discriminates against 22% of its citizens.

Better still, perhaps Intel, an American company could cut back on outsourcing and bring the operations back to the US where unemployment among high tech workers is hitting new highs. Israel is no cheaper and its workers no better than silicon valley's that has plenty of ex-Israelis who'll be happy to work for them (I know 3 currently unemployed ex-ISraelis there who are searching for a job and the last thing they want to do is uproot their families and return to the madness of Israeli society with its infinite divisions and intractable xenophobia). I'll be personally writing a letter to Intel and recommending that they revisit outsourcing to Israel. Absolutely unnecessary and obviously counterproductive.

Sure, China has human rights issues too, but proportionately speaking, those pale by comparison to Israel's. besides Chinese are perfectly happy to work Saturday, Sunday, any day. It's a corporate society, after all.

Simcha Levental said...

One of the sources of the problem is that the Weis gang with the entire ultra-orthodox community have been encouraged by the government not to get an education and stay in yeshiva.

Let them free, allow them not to serve in the army and also they will be working for intel or enjoying its fruits. Today, with their real world illiteracy they are just poor spectators.

Samuel said...

Amongst everything else about this post, one salient point stood out. There was no attempt at even trying to understand the POV of the demonstrators.

This is sad at many levels but bedrock (for this discussion) is that something so elementary and fundamental, needs now to be explained at length. This, to me, is heartbreaking.

Mr. Avishai, it appears, does not agree with the good Lord's statement that "Man does not exist on bread alone", but needs as well His spirit. In all his references to GDP and "business culture" one doesn't find a mention of our glorious heritage that is at issue here. Not so long ago, a non-religious person coined the phrase, "More then the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews". Has that recognition been lost as well?

It is easy today to see the truth of our Sages statement in the Talmud, "The nation of Israel is a lone sheep amidst seventy wolves". From whence will people draw their national resolve if they trade away their national heritage for a bowl of lentils (the reference is to last week's Torah reading, where Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for some lentil stew, setting the metaphysical reality in place for Jacob to become the progenitor of the Jewish nation)?

I remember well conversations with ordinary Israeli citizens who confided in me their desire to move to Canada to escape from the constant warfare they experience in Israel. Or the one who would give back the Kotel for some peace agreement. The "yordim" phenomena attests to such a sentiment as well, a festering wound in the national psyche. Dejudaizing the State will only speed up this process of national non-identity, a process no nation can survive, especially one in a overtly hostile neighborhood where half the contest is a test of nationalistic wills.

I have left untouched the issue of "human rights" and "Western values" (which are based on the Judeo-Christian heritage) and their intersection with a mandated day off from work, as this is too far afield from our topic. I mention it only in passing for those who might have been impressed by Mr. Avishai's list of activities and his appeal to Western values as reasons to abandon the Sabbath (in all honesty, those points argue for abandoning Israel for Teaneck, which has far greater access to both of those), that here too, Mr. Avishai has overlooked the counter-arguments to his position.

Anonymous said...

Who the hell needs all this, just give the land to the arabs. you can have Freud in the village........

Potter said...

Samuel, man may not live on bread alone but also no one, no one group, should be allowed to impose their religious convictions on anyone and everyone else.

Dana makes a good point but it's not going to happen. I disagree also with BA's expectation that it is up to Intel to act or refuse to act to save Israel from itself. Intel probably can work around these demands easily and maintain relations and other benefits. Citizens of Israel however either allow this hegemony or they rise up against it and forbid it. This is another instance of Israeli public complacency. It's pretty disappointing to read a plea that relies on the conscience of the world.

Dana said...

Potter, my concern here is not for Israel, which can start it's own ultra-orthodox israelintel if it wishes, and force everyone to pray three or five times a day, or however many times it's necessary to satisfy the talibanskis and their false "spirituality". Israel has only itself to blame for encouraging backward-looking, reactionary cults that lead a parasitic life davening in their madrassahs and brain washing the young, who grow up to be know-nothings, unproductive, zealot 'citizens' with an extremely selfish view of the world and of fellow humans.. Israel will rip what it sowed, and there's nothing anyone can do about that since the ultra-orthodox will be the majority in the not too distant future. And this is not something any government in israel can change.

My concern is for a US company that misguidedly feels it should be outsourcing good jobs when the same or better work can be done in the US. I see no reason intel should build another R&D facility in jerusalem - or anywhere in israel, or even in Thailand, for that matter. I simply want to see the jobs come home, where they are needed. israelis or chinese or indians can follow the jobs and apply for H1B visas like many others have. Many secular israeli high tech workers would anyway love to emigrate, and I think we, in the US, and our US founded companies should help get them - along with other skilled workers.

Bernard Avishai said...

Potter, people the world over who stand for ordinary human rights implicitly support one another by standing up wherever and whenever they can. My God, Europeans supported the American civil rights movement throughout the 1960s. Every country has ultras who will destroy conscience. Joseph Conrad knew people are pretty much born with the wild, clannish faculties to destroy civil society unless its guardians, the world over, are vigilant. And Intel is violating its own standards here. All I want is for the company to be itself. I promise it will pay a price in lost talent by doing this.

As for Sabbath, if the POV of the demonstrators were to sing the praises of the Sabbath, I would have no problem with them. My wife and I keep the Sabbath in our fashion. The point is, this is our fashion, and we do not intend to be told by anyone how to keep it. I assume you can tell the difference, Samuel, between a religious practice and the totalitarian claims of a cult.

Potter said...

Dr. Avishai- I agree that people do stand up. People do. Companies don't by and large. Or I should say it's the rare company that does. I don't know Intel's standards elsewhere. I would like an elaboration on that. And perhaps you can say otherwise since you know economics and business much more than I do. But I am asking for Israeli's to do this first and loudly before we others support them. If Israeli's are okay with this ( an indication, tip of the iceberg, of more to come), as Dana says, this is the way it's going to go.

I feel very bad about this seeming inevitability, very bad. Something in me just sinks. But it will be Israeli's that let this happen first and foremost.

Anonymous said...

Israel is a theocracy.
All theocracies suck.

hammeruk14 said...

ah well the muslims dont have this problem, they can pray for an hour and so and go back to work... (sorry for being humourous)

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