Steve Jobs’ mixed record in Israel
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Steve Jobs’ mixed record in Israel

JERUSALEM – Israelis last week joined in as the world to mourn the passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, noting his relentless creativity and imagination. Jobs’ You Tube 2005 Stanford commencement address was pasted on countless local blogs, with emphasis on his stirring paragraph: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”

In a country where one is painfully aware of how limited time is, and where toppling dogmas is the national pastime, Jobs’ philosophical legacy inspires many.

His relationship with Israel’s technology sector, however, is more of a mixed bag.

Jobs did not have a close affinity with Israel, even though in June Apple removed an offensive application, Third-Intifada, from its store after it was pointed out that the application could be used to encourage violence against civilians. An Apple spokesman said at the time that the app “violates the developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people.”

Back in April, however, Jobs did not hesitate to reject an application from the Israeli start-up company Tawkon. The “app” measures cellular phone radiation in real time. Tawkon was blocked from releasing its app for the iPhone, while Apple released its own application instead. Tawkon’s app is available for Android- and Blackberry-based devices. Jobs personally turned down the request.

Lest anyone reach the wrong conclusion, however, it must be noted that those two decisions, both made by Jobs himself, appear to have been based strictly with business in mind. Two principles specifically appear to have played roles in the decision: Do not alienate a segment of your market (in this case, the Arab and Muslim worlds), and do not let a competitor sell a product you make yourself.

Much has been said last week about Jobs’ intriguing origins. He was born to an American mother and a Syrian father, was given up for adoption, and raised by Paul and Clara Jobs. Despite his complicated past, however, Jobs clearly viewed all politics through the lens of his business acumen.

Last Friday, on the eve of Yom Kippur, two out of four Israeli daily newspapers, Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz, featured Jobs’ passing as their top, front-page feature, under the identical headline: “The man who changed our lives.”

Israelis, like most of the Western world, have been following the Apple phenomenon since its genesis, but their love affair with its products has not always been joyful. It began in 1982, when two former IDF engineers, Dr. Yoram Friedman and Abrasha Tamir started Yeda Machshevim (“Computer Know-how” in Hebrew), which held the Apple franchise for a generation.

Yeda enjoyed an unmitigated success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but when Apple entered its dark years after Microsoft introduced Windows 95, Yeda’s sales shrunk by as much as 90 percent. In October 2007, Yeda lost its franchise to a newly formed competitor named iDigital, a subsidiary of the iConGroup.

Over the past four years, the new provider has introduced the kind of direct and uncomplicated service Mac owners are used to in the United States.

Much of the “other side” of the Jobs/Apple/Israel story was missing last week, however, in Israel’s coverage of his passing. It was the iconic Steve Jobs that people remembered – that and his message of self-empowerment.

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