Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yogurt & The Two-State Solution

Why are the Jewish people so successful, as a group?
‘Innovation derived from restless energy,’ speculated one philosopher.
Why is Israel so productive?
‘Work has more meaning when one is involved in problem,’ said the same pundit.
than engaged in routine tasks.
Jews apparently have a restless energy. When confronted with
a task as, many Jews will find a way to make the task more interesting by adding or subtracting from it, modifying it, streamlining or encumbering it, all with the goal of creating a better product, document, procedure.

This takes the boredom out of the work since every day is another challenge. This may also explain why so many Jewish people have been awarded the Nobel Prize for various things, from Science to Literature. This restless energy, perhaps even the arrogance of thinking that something can be done differently, better, may well be the cause for the much envied Jewish success.

This week the man who developed Dannon yogurt passed away at 103. The Carasso family was originally from Spain but fled the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century and wound up in Thessilonka, Greece. Around 400 years later, in 1916, they migrated back to Spain Daniel Carasso was born in Barcelona where his father Issac named him Dannon, a Catalonian nickname for Daniel. The Carasso family began to manufacture yogurt, then only known in Greece, the Middle East, and Asia, at the beginning of the last century.

In 1929 Daniel moved to Paris, where he opened the family’s French branch.. He also studied business management and even attended the Pasteur Institute to study the microbes in yogurt.

When the Nazis came to power the Carasso family fled to New York, in 1941, and went into business with Swiss-born Spanish businessman Joe Metzger and his son Juan. Together they purchased the Bronx based Oxy-Gala company and founded Dannon Milk Products. The yogurt didn’t sell well until they added some jam to appeal to the American sweet tooth, and then the business took off. The Metzgers were reportedly marketing masters, and the Dannon Yogurt brand became a popular snack and health food. Beatrice Foods eventually bought them out. But the Carasso family moved to Paris in 1951 where Daniel opened up the European Groupe Danone Yogurt brand. Today sales are in the billions of dollars.

Needless to say, Daniel liked to go to work. He took an old product, yogurt, and improved upon it.

Israel has become a hothouse of ideas, producing thinks like the disk on key also known as the jump drive; Israel is home to much of Intel’s R&D, designing a number of the original Pentium chips. Israelis also improved on the idea of drip irrigation, and their system is now used around the world. Israelis are also responsible for developing some of the anti-cancer drugs, like Gleevec used for Lymphatic cancer. Two Israelis won the Nobel prize for their work in Chemistry developing processes that lead to cancer drugs.

Challenge keeps the mind busy. Tinkering makes things better, and staves off boredom.

As simple as that.

Dr. Yair Paz, a professor of Geography at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem recently gave a lecture, replete with maps, showing the division of Jerusalem, and the “Two State Solution,” prepared in the greatest secrecy back in 1937 by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The map the agency prepared behind closed doors was in response to the British Peel Commission that was looking to establish a working plan for what they thought would be post-mandate Palestine. Pragmatists who kept their ideology within manageable bounds drew up this map. The Jewish population of pre-State Israel was barely 400,000, with the Arab population numbering nearly 350,000. If one State would be created the Jewish people would have a hard time keeping a majority. Therefore the pragmatists were in favor of a two-state solution.

For their part the Arabs firmly rejected any two-state solution. The right-wing Jewish Revisionists, also rejected any talks of a two-state solution.

Their Peel Commission’s proposal divided Jerusalem, scooping away the Old City from the Jewish people, putting in a corridor from Jaffa to Jerusalem, ostensibly to be controlled by the British, and handing Jordan and the West Bank over to the Arabs. Jerusalem would be an international city. Founding Jewish Agency chairman Chaim Weizman was reported to have said he didn’t want the Jewish people to be in charge of the Old City since the sensitivities of the Moslems and Christians would be too much for a fledgling State of Israel to handle.

Back then the neighborhoods of Beit Vagan and Beit Hakerem were distant settlements, while today they are nearly in the center of town. Back then the Jews drew up their own map in response to the Peel Commission, knowing that some counter proposal had to be made.

The Peel Commission gave the Jewish people Tel Aviv and Haifa, and West Jerusalem, sans the Old City.

The Jewish Agency plan countered with a link between Tel Aviv and Haifa with the land reaching to Jerusalem, and including the Galilee. The Jewish Agency plan gave up the Old City and the Holy Sites but demanded to keep Mt. Scopus, with a view of the Old City.
According to Dr. Paz this was because one of the Jewish Agency planners thought that in the future the Jewish forces could use Mt. Scopus as a staging area and flow down into the Old City. In those days according to Paz the philosophy was that history was fluid, that was a fact today could become another fact tomorrow,. Pragmatism and flexibility was the key. Stay in the game, keep up the dialogue, because things change all the time.

The Peel Commission’s plan and the Jewish Agency counter proposal were never implemented because of the rise of the Nazis in Europe. The British had more on their hands than worrying about a territorial problem in Palestine. The Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 put all talks of a partition on hold, and nothing was done again until after the end of WWII. By then pre-State Israel was already preparing for a war with the Arabs, and Independence, which came in 1948.

It wasn’t until 1967 that the plan to swoop down on the Old City from Mt. Scopus was put into action. The talk of a two-state solution is still on the table, with Jerusalem as an international city.

Over seventy years since the original idea was discussed talks are still going on.
Given these facts it is unlikely that any solution can be hurried, or even reached, simply because a new U.S. President has come to office.

But one never knows. As the Chairman of the Jewish Agency in 1937 said, “History is fluid.” Given the Jewish penchant for tinkering with things, restlessly looking for newer variations on the theme, much as Daniel Carasso decided to filter his yogurt and make it lighter than the original Greek recipe, and then even adding jam, perhaps some new thoughts will be able to tweak this two-state solution idea and make it into a palpable reality.

Clearly Jews don’t have a paten on innovation. It is just possible that President Obama has an idea that works better than the rest. And to prove the ‘fluid history’ idea, one can merely accept that the Peel Commission isn’t gone, the decision was just postponed. Perhaps now is the time when it will be revised and implemented to everyone’s satisfaction.