Agassi is co-winner of this year's Asper Award, given annually by the Brandeis International Business School to entrepreneurs "who have demonstrated exemplary citizenship, creativity, innovation, and business success."
The other winner is Michael Granoff, an Israeli investor who believed in Agassi's vision, invested in it -- and has helped raise hundreds of millions more from other investors to try to turn the idea into reality. Granoff is president of Maniv Energy Capital.
Agassi's company, called Better Place, has generated plenty of industry buzz, although the technical and financial challenges remain daunting. The system is scheduled to go into service in two test countries, Israel and Denmark, in 2011.
Granoff will attend and Agassi will speak via video link in a forum titled, "Driving Down Electric Avenue: A New Route to an Oil-Independent World?" The event is Tuesday, March 23, at 5 p.m., and is open to the public. Here's a link to register.
The idea is fascinating: drivers could charge their car batteries at home, but also could stop in to swap a low battery for a fully charged one, in less time than it takes to fill your tank with gasoline. But that would require billions of dollars in infrastructure, especially in big countries like the United States, a key future market. So far only Renault has committed to take part. Still, in January, Better Place won an additional $350 million in capital from investors. So some big players, including HSBC and Morgan Stanley, are betting that it will work.
Here's a recent video report about Better Place on Clean Skies News.
On the Monadnock Quaker blog, Hawthorn provides a vivid personal account of her journey to the Egyptian capital, recounting the successes and frustrations she encountered along the way -- not least the effects of her own days of fasting in solidarity with the Gazans.
The Gaza Freedom March was organized by activist groups to draw attention to what they regard as Israel's siege of Gaza, virtually closing the border crossings with Israel and blocking the rebuilding of Gaza after the destruction of the three-week military action. The fighting left more than 1,300 people dead in Gaza, including hundreds of civilians (hence the number of protesters).
Israel has said it had to act militarily to halt persistent and indiscriminate rocket fire from miitants in Gaza against civilians in towns across the border in Israel. Thirteen Israelis were killed in the fighting. Israel says it will reopen the crossings when its security concerns are met.
More unusually, the Gaza march also focused not only on protesting Israel and US policy in the region but also on what the organizers view as Egypt's complicity with the Israeli crackdown on Gaza. Hawthorn's journal entries recount the cat-and-mouse tactics of the marchers as they tried to hold protests in Cairo, while Egyptian police sought to disrupt the gatherings and prevent any march toward the Gaza border.
In the end, nearly 100 of the activists were allowed to travel into Gaza with two busloads of humanitarian aid, thanks to the intervention of Suzanne Mubarak, wife of President Hosni Mubarak. But that compromise divided the protesters, as Hawthorn recounts in detail.
She says she was inspired to join the fast because of the example of Hedy Epstein, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who was a key organizer of the protest and who initiated the hunger strike to press for the borders to be opened The fasting marchers declared on January 1: "We recognize that the Palestinians of Gaza continue to hunger for food, shelter, and most of all for freedom. We continue to hunger for justice for Gaza and all of Palestine. At this time we announce that we will feast when Gaza feasts. Until that time, each of us will choose the time to end her/his fast and again take food. Our pleasure in that food will always be mixed with the pain of Palestinians....”
The Israeli government says that Israel's consul general in Boston, Nadav Tamir, met today with a senior foreign ministry official, said he was sorry that a memo he wrote had leaked -- and was told to return to Boston next week and get back to work.
Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem that Tamir met with Yossi Gal, the director general of the ministry to go over the matter, and that "the page is turned, the case is closed. We all want to put this behind us."
The Israeli consulate in Boston later confirmed that Tamir will return to work at the consulate next week. In a statement, the consulate said that Tamir said "had no intention of the memo becoming public, and that it was part of an ongoing discourse between him and his superiors. He also added that he is saddened by the interpretations surrounding the incident. The Consul General said he completely agrees that a civil servant can't publicly criticize his government and sees his role as representing the state of Israel and its elected officials."
(See the full text of the statement below.)
Palmor said Gal had criticized Tamir for distributing his internal memo "too widely," and that Tamir had "expressed his regret that it was given such a wide distribution because that was not his intent." But Palmor said there was no official censure or other reprimand of Tamir, contrary to the description of the meeting on some Israeli news sites today. Palmor said: "it was not anything like being scolded or reprimanded."
The Ha'aretz newspaper web site and the Hebrew language web site YNet, owned by Israel's largest paper, Yediot Ahronot, carried accounts of the closed-door meeting between. Israel's Channel 10, which had broadcast the initial leak of Tamir's memo a week ago, also carried details of the meeting.
Ha'aretz said Gal had censured Tamir, and that Tamir had apologized for the way the incident unfolded.
Tamir was summoned back to Jerusalem this week after the leak of an internal document he wrote criticizing the Israeli government's handling of its relations with the United States. Some critics said Tamir should be fired or recalled, while many Jewish organizations in Boston came to his defense, saying he had done outstanding work in New England on behalf of Israel.
Channel 10 quoted Gal as saying: "There was no intention for the content of the memo to go beyond the internal correspondence [between Tamir and] his superiors, and that he regrets the interpretation that the incident sparked."
Ha'aretz said that " following the consultation, Gal censured Tamir for lack of judgment in the way that he had disseminated the memo to a wide list of recipients. The consul-general acknowledged his culpability and said that he regretted the fact that the memo was leaked to the public."
"Tamir added that he understands the fact that the holder of a public office cannot publicly criticize the policies of the government that assigned him to his post, and that he sees his job as an opportunity to represent Israel and its elected government," Ha'aretz said.
Click below to see full text of the Israeli consulate's press release:
Boston consul general Nadav Tamir has arrived back in Israel to a very mixed welcome in the media and in the feisty Israeli blogosphere. Some voices back him firmly; others are equally forceful in condemning him for his handling of a memo critical of Israel's handling of its relationship with the United States.
Tamir was summoned home by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to explain the internal memo, which was leaked last to an Israeli television channel last week. An uproar ensued, with Tamir under fire from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lieberman and his deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon.
Just a couple of examples of the contrasting views being expressed in the Israeli media:
On the Jerusalem Post web site, commentator Isi Liebler says that however talented Tamir may be, his actions were "inexcusable." Liebler takes the view that Tamir clearly intended his memo to leak to the media. He says "no government would tolerate such behavior."
Presenting a contrasting view that strongly supports Tamir, former senior diplomat Alon Liel writes on the opinion page of the Jerusalem Post: "I have read secret diplomatic cables for 30 years and I can testify that this is the kind of report professional diplomacy was created for. Without seeing the current diplomatic correspondence (as I am no longer a government official), I can say that this is one of the most important cables sent by an Israeli diplomat this year - or maybe even this decade."
And in an editorial, the daily Haaretz offers some insights into the debate on Tamir's memo within the Foreign Ministry. It comes down on the side of Tamir.
David Harris, the long-time executive director of the American Jewish Committee, is just back from doing battle with the anti-Israel contingent at the United Nations racism conference in Geneva.
Harris says he was encouraged by what happened in Geneva -- especially the ways in which growing numbers of European countries were willing to stand up this time to those who he said had hijacked the first racism conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 to demonize Israel.
At a forum at the Andover Newton Theological School on Sunday night, Harris said the withdrawal of ten countries from the Geneva follow-up session was a major breakthrough. In 2001, only the United States and Israel boycotted the Durban racism conference.
"I think it's a threshold moment," Harris said. "And if we meet again in ten years, I hope each of you can name all 10, because they deserve, if nothing else, our memory."
He noted that in addition to the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, five European countries also boycotted: Italy, Holland, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. "The five countres in Europe that broke the EU consensus, which is key to Europe, created a different kind of precedent in the EU."
Harris also applauded the 25 or so countries whose delegates walked out of the conference when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- the only national president to attend the conference -- used his seven-minute time slot to deliver a half-hour speech laced with anti-Israel language.
"The moral majority in multilateral diplomacy focuses on the EU. When they walked out, their statement was powerful, it was thunderous."
Harris said he respected the choice of some countries, including Britain and France, to stay within the conference process and to pressure for compromises on the final declaration, which eliminated the specific criticisms of Israel that had been in the draft declaration. Many countries that took part in the 2001 conference made the same argument. And the final version in 2001 also excluded most of the anti-Israel language, including clauses equating Zionism with racism, that had been in the early drafts.
"This is a classic argument of staying in or leaving. If you stay in you become tainted, but if you leave you become detached. Not every country will agree on what is the trigger point," he said. But compared with 2001, when Israel's supporters were outfoxed and outmaneuvered in the main conference as well as in the non-governmental forum and street demonstrations, Harris said that this time defenders of Israel were far more effective in blunting the attacks.
And he said that despite complaints from some Jewish organizations, the AJC and others engaged successfully with the Obama Administration to consider whether to participate in Geneva. That gave the AJC more weight in arguing ultimately against taking part, he said.
The Boston chapter of the American Jewish Committee created a Web site to track developments at the Durban II conference, including the evolution of the drafts. The site, www.bostonfreedomforum.org, offers the local AJC take on the Geneva proceedings.
The head of the Anti-Defamation League in New England says that Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley went beyond words and took “meaningful and substantial action” to address Jewish concerns about the Pope’s handling of a Holocaust-denying Catholic bishop.
Derrek Shulman, the ADL's regional executive director, joined O’Malley on Thursday night at a dinner at Boston College Law School in Newton that marked the close relationship between Catholics and Jews in greater Boston. Also on hand was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, who spoke to students during an afternoon conference about Israel and its sometimes-strained relations at the UN.
In an interview, O’Malley said that Pope Benedict XVI had worked hard to address concerns raised about the Vatican’s decision to lift the excommunication of four ultraconservative bishops, including Richard Williamson, who denies the Nazis used gas chambers to exterminate Jews. O’Malley noted that the Vatican has dismantled the agency that had advised the pope on the matter, and has turned its duties over to a more rigorous commission with more staff and resources to avoid repeating such errors.
“Everyone was shocked and disappointed that it took place,” O’Malley said. “But no one who knows the Holy Father doubts his commitment to good relations between Catholics and Jews.”
O’Malley said the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land in May would “give the Holy Father an opportunity to further this dialogue and to show the world the church’s commitment to having very close relations with the Jewish community.”
O’Malley met with Jewish leaders in Boston in February to address their concerns over Williamson, and he pledged to move a Holocaust memorial from the Brighton chancery to the new Braintree headquarters of the Boston archdiocese. O’Malley also facilitated the visit to Boston last month of a senior Vatican cardinal, Walter Kasper, who is Benedict’s adviser on Catholic-Jewish relations.
Shulman said of O’Malley's initiative: “He reinforced his emphatic support for the Jewish people during the Holocaust. But he did more than share his words with us. He conducted what we think is some very meaningful and substantial action… We found it very powerful and comforting, and frankly very consistent with Cardinal O’Malley’s leadership on Jewish-Catholic relations.”
O’Malley called the Williamson issue “a hiccup along the road,” adding, “And that’s why people reacted so strongly -- because the relationship is so important.”
Ambassador Shalev said, “We look very much forward to the Pope’s visit. We welcome him and cherish the good relations with our Catholic and Christian friends…. I think the [Williamson] problem was solved.”
Shalev, a legal scholar who had twice been a visiting professor at BC Law School, was less forgiving toward Miguel D’Escoto, the radical Nicaraguan priest who is currently president of the UN General Assembly.
Shalev publicly criticized D’Escoto in September for hugging Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after his address to the UN. Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust occurred and has called Israel an apartheid state that should be wiped off the map.
“The president of the UN should be uniting, not dividing…. He does not understand his responsibilities as president of the General Assembly,” Shalev said.
Jerusalem's new mayor, Nir Barkat, is a technology entrepreneur who understands competitive advantage. He also knows that Harvard Business School is the bastion of competitive-advantage expertise, thanks to Professor Michael E. Porter's decades of global work in the field in cities as diverse as Seoul, South Korea, and Kigali , Rwanda.
In the Globe's business section today, staff writer Robert Weisman explains Barkat's work with Porter and Yagil Weinberg, a business strategist who specializes in advising countries on the Middle East on competitiveness.
Their initiative, launched in 2004, has involved Arabs and Jews in identifying competitive clusters of industries, including healthcare and life sciences, that can ensure Jerusalem competes at the highest level.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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