Israeli news sites now requiring ad reading – what’s a news junkie to do?

Which link do you click to get rid of the ad?

I understand that there’s no choice. But do they have to be so darn annoying?

In the last few months, two of the three main online Israeli news sites I visit have instituted advertising techniques that are particularly invasive…and there doesn’t seem to be any way to turn them off.

Haaretz was the first to get the revenue-building bug. When you visit the English language site, you are first treated to a full-page ad. There is a “close” button so you can quickly skip it, or the advertisement automatically disappears after a few seconds. The ad only appears when accessing the home page.

While the Haaretz ad slows down my access to the site (and I should point out that I have never once clicked on the link), The Jerusalem Post’s technique is downright infuriating. The Post uses the same style of pop over ad, but it appears every time you open any page of the site, not just the home page. To make matters worse, for some of the ads, there is a deceptive “close” link that would open the ad itself (the real “close” link was above it).  That strategy at least appears to have been removed in the last week or so.

The third main English language news site from Israel, Ynet (the online version of the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot), has thus far withheld the temptation to force readers to suffer through the opening commercials.

Now, I know that the online news business needs to change – the revenue models have never been sustainable on display ads alone. And Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post are hardly the only sites trying to figure out how to stay afloat. The New York Times in March announced the imminent launch of its new web revenue scheme – subscriptions will be required for heavy web clickers (free if you subscribe to the print edition) and the fees are hefty by online standards, starting at $25/month. The Wall Street Journal online has required subscriptions since its inception, as has The Economist. New business models for publications delivered on tablet devices like the iPad are also in the works.

Naysayers claim that a newspaper requiring a subscription fee is shooting itself in the foot; that savvy web users will just move on to the next free site. Does that make the enforced pop over ad the better bet? Here’s an idea: why not give me a choice and allow me to pay a small amount to avoid the ads? I might not do it, but at least then I’d feel like it was my decision.

In the meantime, I’m slogging through the ads. But note to The Post and Haaretz – I’m visiting Ynet a whole lot more these days (oops, I hope no one at Yediot is reading this post!)

ISRAEL21c brings Israel home to Rochester, New York

How does a small but solid Jewish community get people to understand and know Israel beyond the typical news cycle headline fare of conflict and stalled peace negotiations? If you are Mona Kolko, chair of the Executive Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester’s Community Relations department, and Isobel Goldman, its community relations director, you engage enthusiastic leadership with lots of creative energy and you place a call to ISRAEL21c.

Mona knew that there was one address to go to where the real face of Israel gets focus – ISRAEL21c. So, earlier this year, Mona contacted Amy Friedkin, president of ISRAEL21c, to explain to her what the Rochester community wanted to do – present a picture of the real Israel – its dynamism, its atmosphere of possibility, and the rich creativity and energy found in its people.

Amy immediately sent them the web link to an important new book, Start-Up Nation, and urged them to get in touch with its two authors, Dan Senor and Saul Singer and bring them to Rochester to speak to the community.

Energy was flowing. Dan Kinel, a new recruit to the Rochester Community Relations Executive Committee had recently and enthusiastically agreed to chair the community’s Speakers Series. Recognizing the opportunity before him, Dan began to turn what was a Jewish federation event for the Jewish community into a Rochester-wide event sponsored by local and nearby businesses and academic centers and now set on drawing an audience representing all of greater Rochester.

Among the sponsors of the event were the University of Rochester’s Technology Transfer Office, Harter Secrest & Emery LLP, Rochester’s largest law firm, Hi Tech Rochester, Rochester’s preeminent organization dedicated to assisting entrepreneurial business ventures, and Greater Rochester Enterprise, the community’s business development advocate.

With Dan Senor secured for the Rochester speaking engagement, his co-author, Saul Singer, agreed to an on-air interview with Rochester’s largest talk radio station host – a program that reaches 25,000 listeners.

Some 750 people attended Dan Senor’s talk in person last June. Many of these attendees were business people, entrepreneurs, inventors and others interested in technological and economic transformation. The community buzz that followed continues to pay off in a more positive word of mouth about Israel by people whose word of mouth matters.

What is the important lesson learned by the Rochester Jewish community experience? Take risk. Try a new direction. And give ISRAEL21c a call if you want great ideas for presenting Israel effectively.

How to be an informed consumer of olive oil

Israel’s 2010 olive harvest is shaping up to be the best in years. Here’s how to enjoy it.

Olives for olive oil

For good olives, you need to go to a good shop.

For everyone who loves olives as much as I do, I have very happy news: the 2010 olive harvest in Israel is sizing up to be the best in years. Now, everyone who knows me, knows that I can jabber for hours on a topic I love, so against my nature, I must try to get to the point. So this will be a short tutorial about how you can become an informed consumer of both olive oil, and olives.

Let’s face it – pure olive oil ain’t cheap. And if a deal looks too good to be true, it undoubtedly is. Here’s how you can test to make sure your olive oil is 100 percent pure, and not a mixed blend, or worse yet, that old Middle-Eastern trick of cheap soya oil colored with spinach juice to give it a beautiful bright green glow.

Take a glass of water. Add a spoonful of your oil to the glass.

All the oil should remain in one unbroken pool- not break up into different globs or separate droplets on the surface. This test is fully accurate, and is used by every professional to test for purity, and requires no expensive or fancy equipment, either.

I am lucky to have a very good friend, Yomi Levi, who just happens to be one of the top experts on olives in Israel, and during a chat over Turkish coffee, he told me about the many variables which can determine the quality of the oil. Best olive oil is of course, cold pressed, with a very low acidity content- 0.2ph being the very best, up to 0.8.

Only buy oil with quality certification

Higher than this means that the oil was extracted using chemical or heat processes, which increases the acidity, and decreases the quality.

And you should ONLY buy Israeli olive oil with the quality certification guarantee stamp, this ensures the quality has been checked carefully, under strict standards.

He also reminded me that to maintain the health benefits of olive oil, to NEVER heat it above 35C, and never to fry with it.

Now, in order to get really top-flight olives, you must have top-flight olive guys, and in my case that is Yomi and his brother Eitan and their shop, Maadanya Yom Tov, at 43 Levinsky Street, in Tel-Aviv. It has been here, started by their grandfather and dad, in the same location since 1947.

Here, you can find many varieties of olives, from artisan-grown Syrian, Tassos, Kalamata, Atlas, Bar Nea, and many others, which they personally select, and they travel themselves to the orchards to oversee the harvest every year.

They also have lots of special items from all over the world, and they always have time to share their enthusiasm and their knowledge about olives and other delights, with their clients and friends. Visiting the shop is like going on a mini holiday with my favorite brothers.

And if you feel like an olive-fueled adventure out of town, you can visit the Galil Olive Harvest Festival, meet Druze and Jewish olive growers, and even press your own olive oil! It’s on until Nov. 6.

Use a truly top grade olive oil as you would use herbs, or salt – to add the perfect finishing touch to a dish.

The most common types of olives grown in Israel for oil, are Syrian, which have a pleasantly bitter, spicy flavor, and Bar Nea, which are more delicate and refined.

Using olive oil to enhance your foods

In Greece, which is one of the world’s largest olive producers, there are centers where merchants can go and choose olives from hundreds of different varieties, and taste how different amounts of salt, oil, or spices, can affect the finished product, and order their choices prepared exactly as they desire – assisted by tasters and curing experts with the training and skills of a Sommelier.

I can’t leave without giving you a few tips about using top grade olive oil to enhance your foods. Take organic lemons, carefully peel them, making sure to remove all of the bitter white pith, then blend with extra virgin olive oil in a blender, let sit overnight, and strain. Use to finish grilled, raw, or roasted fish, or for all types of vegetables.

Gently heat fresh crushed rosemary in olive oil, let it sit overnight, strain, and use for marinating and finishing all types of meats, especially lamb, and grilled fruits and veggies.

For shrimp and other seafood like crab and lobster, also for delicate raw white sea fish (like locus, bass, musar, etc) dishes: Split a fresh vanilla bean, add it to a bottle of olive oil along with a star anise, let infuse for a week. Drizzle seafood with this right before serving.

And most useful of all: Before going out drinking, drink two tablespoons of olive oil, this prevents you from getting, ahem, “too tipsy”, and also prevents hangovers.

So enjoy the olive harvest, and experiment, taste, and experience for yourselves this precious culinary treasure!

Chef Rima Olvera

Rima Olvera is a well-known chef working in Israel.

Rima Olvera writes about food in Israel in her blog Chef Rima’s Notes.

ISRAEL21c ‘most innovative and important’ website on Israel today

Dan Senor, co-author with Saul Singer of the Israeli bestseller Start-Up Nation, called ISRAEL21c “the most innovative and important organization about Israel that exists today” at an event held this month in New York.

At the meeting, hosted by ISRAEL21c board member Ellen Cutler Levy and David Levy in Scarsdale, Senor told the 32 guests that the ISRAEL21c website was a valuable resource for his book.

Among the guests were Jewish community leaders from Westchester County, New York and New York City who represent a variety of local Jewish organizations from synagogues to UJA-Federation of New York, to Israel-focused organizations.

During the event Senor spoke about Start-Up Nation, the book that analyses Israel’s extraordinary high-tech successes, and shows how a country with fewer people than the state of New Jersey, no natural resources, and hostile neighbors, can produce more technology companies listed on NASDAQ than all of Europe, Japan, South Korea, India and China combined.

Co-author Singer recently returned from a visit to China for the summer DAVOS. He also spoke about the book, which has just come out in Chinese.

Start-Up Nation is doing well in Korea and Taiwan and has reached the bestseller lists in the US, India, Singapore, and Israel. Additional foreign language editions are on the way in Israel, UAE (Arabic), Brazil (Portuguese) and Russia.

During the event, attendees learned that Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs greatly acknowledges ISRAEL21c’s work and has a working relationship with the organization. In response to requests, people were told how to contribute and how to link the website to the websites of their organizations.

Cutler Levy spoke about meetings over the past few years with thousands of community leaders and college students from around the US about how to be part of the viral marketing process that helps people to have a stronger and more educated relationship with Israel.

She recommended the following to “redirect the conversation” about Israel: Subscribing to ISRAEL21c’s free newsletter; forwarding the newsletter to social and business networks, when relevant; encouraging children and grandchildren – through college age – to use the website for research purposes; suggesting that organizations subscribe to the newsletter and/or add a link to ISRAEL21c to their websites.

My summer at Hebrew University

Arab countries have much to gain from scientific collaboration with Israel.

Ahmed Moustafa, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey.

In 2008, I was invited to spend a summer conducting neuroscience research at both the Hebrew University (Jerusalem) and Al Quds Palestinian University (East Jerusalem /West Bank).

As an Egyptian, I had grown up very cautious about interacting with Israelis; it had never occurred to me to visit Israel. Many other Egyptians and probably many people in other Arab states feel the same way.

Some of my friends in Egypt advised me not to embark on such an “unethical” trip. For many in Egypt, setting foot in Israel is unthinkable, regardless of the purpose of the visit. But the Palestinian professors whom I consulted did not voice such criticism; they encouraged me to visit Israel. My friends in the United States did not make such criticisms either, and I realized that many Americans and Europeans who visit Israel hold different views on Israeli politics, yet they discuss their opinions openly with Israelis.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that regardless of the views my friends and I might have about Israeli politics, the opportunity to gain scientific experience at a good research institution was a separate issue, and nearly at the deadline for making the decision, I decided to accept the invitation to visit Israel.

As I landed in Israel and went through Israeli customs and security, I had a few worrisome moments. But my three months in Israel were scientifically enriching and socially rewarding. I spent most of my time at the Hebrew and Al Quds Universities, but I also occasionally visited Haifa University. Both the city and the university in Haifa have large Jewish and Arab populations, and the two groups mix more often than in Jerusalem.

In the very beginning, the Hebrew University kindly helped me obtain a visa for my visit. At the Hebrew University, I learned some scientific techniques on animal models of Parkinson’s disease with the generous help of Dr. Boris Rosin. Professors at the Hebrew University were very enthusiastic to have me as a colleague. I still consult with them on many open questions and research projects in the Parkinson’s disease field, in which the neuroscientists at the Hebrew University play a key international role.

My social life in Israel and the West Bank was also rewarding and educational. I visited many parts of Israel with my Arab neighbors in Jerusalem, many of whom were students at the Hebrew University. I was also repeatedly invited to professors’ homes for shabbat dinner and social gatherings, and I was always warmly welcomed. At many of these occasions, I felt more welcomed than people visiting from European countries, perhaps because of my Egyptian background. Among Israeli and Palestinian students, I often found myself discussing political issues, including the role of Anwar Sadat ın the peace process, the Palestinian refugee problem, Jews from Arab lands, and others. I found that Israelis’ stands on political issues were not at all homogenous.

Israeli universities produce scientific research comparable to that seen in Western countries. Israeli science institutions are constantly expanding. For example, the Hebrew University is currently building a new multi-million-dollar brain science research center, and plans to recruit top-notch scientists from around the globe. World-class scientists from Italy, the United States, Germany, Canada, Japan, and many other countries are constantly visiting and lecturing at Israeli universities. Israel holds many annual science meetings that researchers from various countries attend. Students from many European countries conduct their graduate work in Israel. Many Israeli universities have shown advancement in fields ranging from biomedical research to agriculture to engineering.

It is sad that neighboring countries do not participate in these activities. There is no doubt that Israeli science institutions and Israeli researchers would welcome having Arab researchers visit and collaborate with them. It is overall a win-win game for both sides, if not more beneficial for Arab researchers. Arab countries need more scientific interaction with the outside world, including Israel.

After gaining science and research experience at world-class Israeli universities, Arab researchers could definitely be great assets to their home countries.

It is also beneficial to invite Israeli scientists and researchers to attend conferences and to lecture in Arab countries. Israeli scientists are frequently invited to lecture at large universities in Europe and the United States; and even, in recognition of their scientific achievements, to give keynote lectures at annual conferences. Israeli scientists do, however, face difficulties attending conferences in Arab states. Should not we benefit from these minds as well? The Israeli experiment in science advancement is a good example for neighboring nations to follow, given the geographical and environmental similarities.

While in Israel, I repeatedly visited the West Bank and many Arab towns in northern Israel, and they were all equally welcoming and happy with my visit. Many students and professors at Al Quds University also welcomed me as a colleague, and with them, I visited Bethlehem, Ramallah, and other Palestinian towns. Almost every Palestinian I met instantly recognized my Egyptian background once I said a word in Arabic. This is because many Palestinians, and other Arabs, have grown up watching Egyptian movies, and are very familiar with the Egyptian Arabic dialect. These were pleasing moments.

Al Quds University in the West Bank has many collaborative scientific projects with Hebrew University, although in recent years, collaboration has not been as strong. I visited a few laboratories at Al Quds University. For example, Dr. Mukhles Sowwan, a Palestinian from Jerusalem, obtained his doctorate from the Hebrew University, under the supervision of an Israeli professor, and returned to the West Bank to start a top-notch nanotechnology laboratory at Al Quds University. Dr. Sowwan’s lab is enviable by many standards, and one cannot help but hope that other scientists in the Arab world follow Dr. Sowwan’s example. Why should not Arabs learn at Israeli universities? Like Dr. Sowwan, why should not Arabs get mentored by Israeli professors and go on to become independent investigators making their own contributions to the global scientific enterprise?

For many in the Arab world, the word Israel elicits political thoughts only. However, it is important to appreciate Israel’s advanced science infrastructure and to recognize that, whatever one’s political views, scientific collaboration with Israel is not only possible but also potentially beneficial for Egypt and other Arab countries.

This article was published courtesy of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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