Close encounters of the Israeli kind

Perceptions of the Jewish State vary depending on how far away you are and the amount of contact you have with it. Some of the most anti-Israel countries have no links or diplomatic relations with Israel. It is not surprising, therefore, to see so many of last week’s Good News stories linked to close connections with the Jewish State.
International trade relations bring countries closer together. Israel''s cabinet voted to expand joint research and development projects with China. Trade Minister Shalom Shimhon stated, "China is one of the most important countries in terms of relations with Israel, together with India." Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, “Israel and China together is a winning combination ”. Further to the West, a joint UK-Israel “tech council” has been set-up to encourage Israeli entrepreneurs to connect with their UK equivalents in order to boost technology exports from both countries to foreign markets. Meanwhile, Israeli entrepreneurs are keen to participate in the Peruvian government’s multi-billion dollar auction of infrastructure projects. Israel currently has $1 billion of projects invested in Peru.
Two medical items of news had strong, yet contrasting associations with the term “closeness”. Firstly, Israel’s 2012 Young Nanotechnology Researcher is Professor Ze’ev Zalevsky of Bar-Ilan University. His invention - the “Opto-Phone” – can read an individual’s medical information (heartbeat, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels) remotely – as far away as 100 meters. A laser beam, an advanced camera and sensitive software, use nano-photonics to detect movement on the surface of the body.  Secondly, Israeli Professor Ohad Birk, head of Soroka’s genetic institute, appeared in Qatar on the Doha Debates TV program dedicated to the subject of consanguinity – inbreeding by first cousins – that causes genetic disorders in the Arab population. Professor Birk’s side won the debate.


Israelis have been trying to get closer to Iranians via Facebook. Technology from Rounds - a Tel Aviv-based startup - has connected 100,000 Israeli with 10,000 Iranians. It is part of the ''Israel Loves Iran'' facebook campaign that highlights Israel has nothing against ordinary Iranians – just their mad leaders. Another Israeli innovation – the Jade application from Israel’s Cellrox – allows employees to connect the same mobile smart-phone safely either for work or for personal use. The app allows the phone’s android operating system to run in separate environments, with a different contact list, different applications and different email accounts. And the new Israeli touch-screen application from SnapKeys advances the human computer interface well beyond the QWERTY keyboard. It’s simple to use, with only two fingers or thumbs, and is available on Windows and Android operating systems. Also, it’s invisible.


Microsoft has had a close relationship with Israel for many years and still thinks very highly of the country’s talented hi-tech resources. Its annual Think Next conference this month at Tel Aviv port focuses on the most creative technology people in the Jewish State. Similarly, there remains strong support from Venture Capitalists who want to partner Israeli entrepreneurial ventures. Investors are very positive about Israel’s prospects in 2012.
So now you’re here, what is the best way to get to know the country? Very soon, you will be able to take the world’s first ''underground'' tours. You descend from Jerusalem in a special vehicle, through specially carved tunnels deep beneath the ground. The tours will whisk visitors around Israel to see some of the country’s most famous sites from close "up". And right now you can visit the Israel Museum without even leaving your chair. As part of the museum’s partnership with the Google Art Project, 520 objects have been made available online. Using Google Street the museum has provided a virtual tour of its compilation of high-resolution images of artwork. 
One visitor will have no difficulty negotiating the World Wide Web. Spiderman – alias Tobey Maguire – is coming to Israel for a family function and to promote Mobli - the innovative Israeli mobile photography platform. I’m sure that his sixth sense has told him that he is close to something big.
I’ll conclude with some spiritual close encounters. Prior to Passover, the Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews sponsored events to help new Ethiopian Jews prepare to connect with their first Seder in the Jewish State. Participants shared their personal stories of Exodus and renewal. On the other hand, the title of the Passover ''hit'' video from the Fountainheads is "Breakin’ Free" – relating of course to the Exodus from Egypt. However, the closing section is even more relevant connection to the title of this blog.


Finally, I’ll close with the story of 110 boys who were brought together by the Chabad movement, to celebrate a mass barmitzvah in Jerusalem. The close connection they experienced was essential, as each one of the boys had lost one or more of his parents.  After the ceremony at the Western Wall, the boys and their families enjoyed a festive party at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre.
I hope that such stories will bring us all closer.
Michael Ordman writes a weekly newsletter containing Good News stories about Israel.
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