Rivlin mediates between Intel and haredi protesters

Rivlin mediates between

haredi intel 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
haredi intel 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
While experts warned on Sunday that a decision by the Intel Corp. to leave Jerusalem would create a downward spiral for the city, sources close to the negotiations between the chipmaker and haredi protesters said that a deal was on the horizon. An agreement, they said, already began to take shape during Thursday's meeting of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) and Intel Israel CEO Maxine Fassenberg, but it was not ready to be put in to effect in time to prevent Saturday's demonstrations. A senior official in Rivlin's office confirmed that negotiators had "seen a willingness in Rabbi Elyashiv's faction [Lithuanian haredim]" to accept the compromise proposal, which would be based on three changes to the current working situation at the Har Hotzvim factory. Fassenberg agreed to reduce the Sabbath work to only those production aspects that could not be stopped for the Sabbath, that the number of workers would be reduced from 120 per Sabbath shift to 20 in each of three shifts, and that none of the employees who work the Sabbath shifts will be Jews. "It was a very generous proposal by Intel," said the official. "It was the limit of what they could do." "There are no more significant differences on principle," he added. "Now, the only thing holding up the proposal seems to be the question of how to put these changes into effect." Elyashiv's camp, he said, still retains two major concerns - the operative issue of how quickly the deal can be placed into effect, and the question of how to "market" the deal to the wider haredi public. "The struggle against Intel has become a flagship for haredim and supporters of the compromise need someone who can 'sell it' to the haredi community," said the official, suggesting that it was likely that former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski could be the "marketer." Those close to Rivlin, who volunteered to sponsor the negotiations between the two sides last week, said that he is particularly concerned about the future of the Jerusalem plant, and has taken it on as a personal project. In 2007, as a member of the opposition, the Jerusalem native was appointed by haredi then-chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee MK Ya'acov Litzman (UTJ) to find a way to keep the Intel plant in the capital. At the time, Intel was considering relocating the production facility, which has been in Jerusalem for more than two decades, to East Asia. "Rivlin fears that without industry such as Intel, the city will go back to being a city of government bureaucrats and academics," said the official. Also on Sunday, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) made an appearance at a rededication ceremony at the Jerusalem plant at which he spoke out against the demonstrators, and expressed hope that the hi-tech giant would chose to stay in the city. MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) also weighed in, saying that "I do not support working on Shabbat as a matter of social principle, but there are factories that must do so and this has been accepted for years. Jerusalem must stay a free city that is open to all." Jerusalem academics also spoke out on the dangers of the protests, and the possibility that Intel could close up shop in search of quieter shores. "Intel is the flagship of industry in general and hi-tech specifically. It is an international corporation and the factory here is not just big but also important to the State of Israel," said Dr. Amiram Gonen, professor emeritus of geography at the Hebrew University. In previous years, said Gonen, haredi protests combined with incentives offered to set up a factory in the periphery blocked a planned expansion of the Intel facility at Har Hotzvim. Now, he said, the danger is that "other investors will say, 'This city is dangerous for investment, suddenly there could be another haredi mayor and he will have even stronger pressures to close factories on Shabbat.' This won't just impact the companies but also those who work for the companies. The reservoir of hi-tech workers will also be reduced. Many of the potential workers already no longer live here." But while Gonen noted that there was a domino effect in which employers and qualified workers would begin to leave the city, he also emphasized that the number of members of the various haredi communities who supported Saturday's protests was minuscule. "They are a tiny minority within a minority - a small handful," he said, explaining that much of the violent protests stemmed from internal struggles for recruitment within the communities. "The struggle here isn't between haredim and seculars, but between seculars together with haredim who want to be part of the economy of Israel, and those who believe in another kind of haredism," Gonen said.