Archive for People from Israel

Interview with Muhammad Khaldi in Khawalid

by on May 12, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Taken from JD’s site – video footage he shots in Israel when we were all there together in April.

Description here: a 3 minute 45 second chat with Muhammad Khaldi in Khawalid, a Bedouin Arab village in northern Israel, and his son Ishmael Khaldi, who is the deputy consul of the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest in San Francisco. We had the talk during a visit to the Khaldi home by a group of 10 Innovation Israel bloggers from the San Francisco Bay Area. Both Ishmael and Deborah Schultz interpret Muhammad’s remarks from Arabic into English.

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MIA Friday

by on May 2, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Apologies, dear readers. I have been MIA this morning. Pilates at 8 a.m. and then had to rush Mr. Vinnie to the vet for some issues you don’t want to know about….believe me. He’s going to be fine and actually got a gold star for losing another half a pound. The big fella — who is essentially Tony Soprano in cat form– is now under 20 lbs for the first time, since, um, he was a kitten, I think.

I also swung by the bank to deposit a very, very important check from Penguin. Important because it solidifies the fact that my book is indeed getting published in 15 days and important because it represents the down-payment on our new Victorian in the mission!! Yay!

So, as I get my late start to blogging, mosey over to TechCrunch and read this. Whether you care about technology because you are a rabid early adopter or a rabid stock investor, this is an important issue for you. I’ve only recently started to understand just how hard it is to move companies to the US– even from non-threatening places like the UK. (I mean what are they going to do? Charmingly mock us to death?) Between this and the H1-B Visa issue there’s just way too much of a disconnect between the Silicon Valley ecosystem that WANTS smart people with good ideas and the smart people with good ideas that support the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

Made worse by the fact that 50% of the congress doesn’t even have a passport.

Am I right?

Adam Sher’s Perspective on Art & Life

by on May 1, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Through fashion maven and start-up founder Daria Shualy, I was introduced to Israeli artist Adam Sher, who came to Israel when he was 19 from Russia after serving in the “Red Army.” He brought with him his animation style of art, where he has done an entire series of Disney characters in realistic form.


In Russia, realism is much more popular than it is in Israel where artistic expression is much more free-form, a style he says he now prefers. He is now working on more abstract pieces. Of the pieces in his southern Tel Aviv studio, my favorite by far was this self-portrait painting he did of himself with his son.



I was able to spend time with Adam in his studio before leaving Israel earlier this month. Here’s the result of an interesting back and forth dialogue about his life, his ‘coming’ to Israel and how he paved the way for a career as an artist.

Renee: When did you know you wanted to paint? Was it a particular incident or did you always just know?
Adam: I started to paint at a very early age; I always hold a pencil or brush in my childhood memories . I grew up in small village in the Ukraine, where there were no conditions to develop my skills, nor was there any real support from my parents, so it was a hobby until later on.

With pressure from my family, (like a good Jewish boy) I chose to study medicine and after 4 years, I went to serve in the Soviet Army as planned. During my army service (that’s a different story?), we left. After moving to Israel in 1990, I went to college for graphic design and illustration studies and since then, I’ve been an graphic designer and art director.

I have a friend who studied in New York and took me to some of her classes. Here, she showed me what canvas and colors are and the rest is history?

Renee: You speak of traditional realism in Europe, particularly in Russia which is not so much the case in Israel I understand from you and also a friend of mine in Tel Aviv who is an art curator. What are your feelings about both and the value of both?

Adam: Traditional realism wasn’t really accepted here in Israel, maybe because the country is only 60 years old,. After WW2, realism was objected by new art movements. Israeli people tried to build a new society that ignored any tradition, thus influencing the art scene here?

I feel lucky that I didn’t study art seriously in Russia since they focus mainly on technique, and less on creativity.

I think that I’m still a “stranger” here, standing a bit on the outside of the local art scene. Most Israeli artists deal with these main themes: the Middle East conflict, the Holocaust and “self observation”.

I deal more with the aesthetics of average every day things that surround us. Here is what Israeli Maayan Shelef said of my work:

“Adam Sher takes an activist approach to art, initiating artistic events, exhibitions, and community activities. In addition to personal projects he collaborates with groups of artists with a similar vision. His creative process forms a circle; he documents the daily living environment and returns to it in the exhibition stage by choosing alternative spaces that are part of the everyday experience. Galleries alongside nightlife and leisure spaces, institutions and industrial areas. These spaces are like temporary homes for the paintings, as Sher believes that his paintings are meant to be hung in a living room. There they fulfill their conceptual purpose – a connection between the indoor and the outdoor that creates the urban aesthetics. His ambition is to communicate with the viewer in a basic, universal way. His painted world is not ideal or na?ve but sober. The magic and innocence that we find in this sobriety, is what makes us connect to his paintings so deeply.”

Renee: What do you most love about the more realistic work you have done so far?

Adam: I think that my most realistic work so far is the self portrait with my 2 kids (as you saw at my studio (as also shown above) I called it “Millstone” since being a father is a very serious responsibility but it’s the most expensive and important thing you have? after a year and a half break in painting, I went back to the studio and painted Millstone in two days.

My wife doesn’t like the name, but I think it’s honest. For me, realism is not just about a painting’s technique, but its also a method to express our feelings in the most honest way.


Renee: What inspired your work with Disney characters and animation?

Adam: Below Israeli art curator Nir Harmat describes my exhibition “Happy Dead End” where I presented several large paintings of cartoon characters:

“Adam Sher’s embalmed images are realistically copied from miniature Disney plastic figurines found in a dump and bought by the pound. Sher grants new strength to these images. He removes them from their natural habitat and isolates them; taking them out of proportion to a full size enlargement and having them confront the viewer at eye level. In fact, this is a conversion of the real with the signifiers of reality. That is, the images receive autonomic power and the status of functional doubles.”

Renee: What is the best thing about being an artist in Israel? the worst?

Adam: I don’t think it’s that easy to be an Israeli artist because there’s more interest around politics and less on global issues……the artists who have different styles and ideas don’t have too many options to exhibit and sell their work.

Renee: What is the best thing about living in Israel? the worst?

Adam: I’m pretty happy living here. Even though it’s a small country, I feel very connected here, and part of the western culture without an obligation to any tradition (as in Old Europe) or the limitation of being over politically correct (as in the U.S).

The big minus is the ongoing chronic war with the Palestinians that corrupts all spheres of our life here and maybe our escapisms, which is many people’s answer to the situation.

More examples of his work below:




Nimrod’s Coffee of Love

by on April 30, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Rosh Pina in Tel Aviv’s Port. The below is a story of Nimrod’s Coffee house which was opened in 2007 with the purpose of immortalizing the heritage “The Good Life” that Nimrod left his sister in his death. Below is the background of the creation of Nimrod’s Coffee of Love.

Nimrod’s sister writes. I admit. I didn’t believe in love. Actually I was one of those who didn’t believe love existed until Nimrod married Iris. And then everything changed. I needed that my only brother would get married in order to believe that true love existed. “What’s the secret of happiness?” I asked him. “The Good Life,” he answered in his simple way.

We left Rosh Pina. Nimrod became a high-tech manager at Microsoft and I moved to America. In my visits, I discovered Nimrod was having a dilemma which was more preferable; to go with his beloved Iris and little Omer and Vick, to our childhood village, Rosh Pina, or take them to the harbor in Tel Aviv.

What is love? Nimrod taught me. In love, there are no boundaries, no barriers. It’s an endless flow.

I had a tour contract in Mexico and Nimrod was in the middle of preparations to the annual Microsoft convention in Israel when the Second Lebanon War started. My parents and I begged: “leave everything and come over to Mexico.”

Nimrod was drafted, as a reserved soldier with a special emergency call. Before he left home for Lebanon, he wrote his beloved Iris a poem:

At about midnight they called me.
It was the telephone announcing machine.
Her voice said: Soldier – Gathering Spots!
You yelled you weren’t ready
Even though you were –
In your sleep –
To pay the price.

I said, pretty thing. It’s routine.
Every soldier-citizen has to go.
I kissed her, I calmed her as if for real.
I hoped to be back before Fall.

When the tank entered the land of Lebanon
I put on my armour,
Praying you wouldn’t call me on the phone.

A simple high-tech man from Ramat Gan
Taking his children to school.
Fighting terrorists at night.

Tell me, will all this help
Tomorrow or the day after
When I come back
And all this business will be over –

In the end you fight to live.
In the end you fight like animals.
For the silence within.

On August 19 of the Hebrew month of Av, the Hebrew Valentines Day, the announcing officers knocked on Iris’s door.

More on Ayelet Noff interview: Miriam Schwab

by on April 29, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Well-know Israeli blogger  Miriam Schwab was among the myriad people who have had trouble getting authenticated to post comments on my blog (sorry), so I am posting this note for her re my interview with Ayelet Noth:

“I’m sure Ayelet didn’t quite mean what it sounds like she said, but in
any case I would like to point out that women can have kids and be very
entrepreneurial. In fact, giving birth can (strangely) act as a
catalyst for making sweeping and exciting changes in one’s professional

I got married really young, and had a bunch of kids by the time I was
25/26. Not only did I not quit and park myself in my kitchen, each kid
pushed me to make changes in my career. I had three kids while in
university. After the third was born I decided to get my first real
job. The next one led me to quit and start my own biz. The next led me
to discover and explore the world of blogging and social media, and
turn my business into a social media marketing service provider.

There is enough of a stigma in the workforce against women with kids,
so we women should watch our words and make sure that it is very clear
that we can have kids and careers. Actually, the fact that we have
personal lives, I think, contributes to our value at work. We don’t
mess around (too much), and are very efficient and focused.

As someone once said to me: “if you ever need something done, ask a
busy person.” Women with kids are busy, and we’ll get things done. “

Hagai Segev on Art, Design & Architecture

by on April 29, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Hagai Segev, an Israeli friend of mine recently edited and translated the book Improvisation: New Design in Israel by designer Mel Byers. Hagai was a foreign exchange student near my hometown in the early eighties and 23+ years later, we’re still in touch.


Hagai is an international art curator in Tel Aviv, where he spends some of his time doing shows for up and coming Israeli artists and some of his time editing design and art books. He started his career as a curator at the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem where he primarily focused on archeology and architecture.

This led him to conduct historical tours of old Jerusalem, including some of the greats in art and literature like Hungarian nobel prize winner Umbrae Curtis, Umberto Eco, Paul Auster and Irish writer Iris Murdoch.

He planned a large exhibition of art history in Jerusalem for the 3000th anniversary in 1995 and for awhile, was also the Director of the Gallery at the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa. He grew up on Kibbutz Nahal-Oz near the Gaza strip, not that far from Kibbutz Zikim, where I spent time on in the mid-eighties.

Like Zikim, It was also a kibbutz that had separate houses for children, meaning the children were separated from their parents for chunks of time and slept apart even though they lived in the same community.

Today, he is married to a woman who has three translation companies based on one of the Goddesses of Syria. I spent Shabat with them this year, an evening I won’t forget anytime soon. Sadly, I missed Anat’s exquisite chocolate cranberry cake since I had a redeye to catch.

Hagai gave me an overview of some of Tel Aviv’s history, which included a long slow walk down Rothchild Boulevard. The infamous Bauhaus Architecture from the 1930s and 40s remains, although they apparently moved some of these buildings forward and built larger more modern complexes behind the Bauhaus houses.



Below are examples of some of the designs from the Improvisation book that were publicly displayed at trendy shop LeEla on Bait Banamal in the Port area of Tel Aviv.









Recent Works of Haya Ran

by on April 27, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Below are recent works of Israeli artist Haya Ran. These paintings were based on photographs of family members from the twenties and thirties when they lived on a kibbutz in the south. Her fixation with legs in these paintings was apparently due to the fact that she saw an emphasis on young girls legs in the photos and wanted to highlight them in her work to demonstrate this point.



Integrating Waldorf Education

by on April 26, 2008 at 12:00 pm

My Tel Aviv friends Hagai and Anot are sending their kids to a Waldorf School. I had heard about the Waldorf philosophy over the years, but don’t know anyone in the states who has gone that route. Alas, not only did I learn the pros through their eyes, but by also watching their children in action.

Waldorf Education integrates the arts and academics for children from preschool through twelfth grade. It encourages the development of each child’s sense of truth, beauty, and goodness, and provides an antidote to violence, alienation, and cynicism.

Apparently from ages 7-14, you focus on emotional development, including the basics, like how you treat others. Ages 14-21 are key for developing your physical body. Children are encouraged to physically act out what they learn. One example they gave me was ‘walking the letter B before and after saying it and writing it.’

Instead of reading through an entire novel or a chapter on the History of Ancient Greece, children are encouraged to draw what they hear and learn. I saw notebooks from third and fourth grades that showed the Waldorf approach to mathematics. Their kids did their multiplication exercises on artistic pads using pastels and brightly colored crayons. One of the kids encircled his homework with a creative colorful jagged edge.

Here are a few examples:







Israelis Put Family First

by on April 25, 2008 at 12:00 pm

I am invited to go clubbing in Tel Aviv by two Israeli women in their mid-thirties. They tell me they?re not heading out until 11 pm or so. Before then, one has an errand to run and a friend to see, another who is a blogger, has work to do and then may grab drinks with friends before we meet at the club.

They love the club energy in Tel Aviv ? what?s not to love? The restaurants and clubs are diverse and things stay open late ? New York style, unlike the majority of American cities that close early and have strict alcohol laws.

Yet, they?re ready to start families and like many driven American females I know who are CEOs of companies or professors at universities, hours are long and demands are high.

I learn about the single scene through their eyes, a few male Israelis, also in their mid-thirties, and a 39 year old going through a divorce. A mutual friend of this soon to be divorcee, doesn?t have any divorced friends. She?s a Berkeley graduate who has spent most of her life in Israel, has two children, is a Director at a technology company and lives a modern family life.

A few other married friends inside and outside the technology world say the same thing. My 43 year old friend who spent six months in my home town nearly 25 years ago is married with two kids. He met his wife at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem where he majored in history and she was ploughed through language studies.

They too have no divorced friends, although they both agree that ?times are a? changing? and not only are they witnessing others outside their circles facing separation but also single women in their late thirties and early forties who are going to sperm banks.

In a country that honors family more than it does work, many of these women have extended families who can help raise their children in a nurturing environment, a blessing that many single American women don?t have.

That said, everyone I met and talked to ? single and married ? felt that ?working it out? whether that be through counseling or moving through it, was preferred over throwing it all away. They?re not as quick to sign those divorce papers because of the fact that family is so central to the core values of Israeli life.

Says one friend who spent all of his life in Israel except for a five year stint in a South African middle school in his teens, “It is extremely hard to live in Israel without family. Family is at the heart of everything we do.

“It?s hard to imagine being single now without family ? everything revolves around family on weekends, holidays, even on weekday evenings. My wife and I both work and she is more driven than I am. At the end of the day, something has to give if we don?t have enough time with our children and it must be our work. What?s more important than our children?”

Part of this commitment to family comes from a long history of struggles and cultural and religious beliefs. Part of comes from Israeli?s love of children. There?s that old Genesis 1:28 reference: “sweeter than honey is a house filled with children.” This belief seems to carry a lot of weight in the Israel I experienced whether the family is religious or not.

I spent time talking to numerous Israelis in their thirties and forties. One 31 year old technology entrepreneur who exudes independence says, “I don?t want to be too old to raise my children. I?m on my second start-up, so I haven?t had time to dedicate to relationships or made family a top priority but that needs to change very soon.”

I ask about the start-up. “I?ll have to offload some of it,” he says with internal conflict in his voice. “Family is more important.”

I had another conversation with a Lebanese Christian journalist who is married to a German woman in her late twenties. He left Lebanon after the war when he was not quite 19 and only just returned about a year ago. Living in Israel for him is about as foreign as it was during his four year college stint in London.

While his parents now live in Israel too, he doesn?t feel like he belongs here. As a Christian among largely Jewish friends and colleagues, he doesn?t fit into any of the traditional buckets that have become the melting pot of this country: Russians, Orthodox, Mizrahim, Ethiopian immigrants, Haradim, Ashkenazim, the Bedouins or the eastern European Zionists who moved here for a better life in the 40s and 50s.

Israel is a land of diversity, each immigrant confronting their original roots, while also absorbing what it means to be Israeli. The latter comes with a great deal of turmoil for so many. How do they feel about living side-by-side with Palestinian fundamentalists who want all Jews dead? How do they feel about mandatory military service? Or leaving family behind in Chile, Poland, or the Ukrane?

I shared a long homemade meal that consisted of German, Jewish and Polish food with a family who has roots in all three. Part of the family was born on an Israeli kibbutz in the south and are now working at non-profits, part of the family was extremely urban, holding entrepreneurial and professional positions, and part of the family was born in Poland and East Germany who fled here for a better life in the 1960s.

One son had dark features and the other had Irish-white skin and piercing blue eyes. Half the family spoke English as well as my San Francisco neighbors and the other half struggled to understand me when I spoke too quickly.

The children showed me their homework assignments and some of the artwork they did in the 3rd and 4th grades. Their work was remarkable and everyone in the family gave them praise and smiled with pride in a way you don?t often see outside the Midwest.

On Saturday, we walked through one of Tel Aviv?s parks only to find parents everywhere with their children playing, walking, picnicking, cycling, rollerblading and eating. There were times I felt as if I was in a ?super large? nursery but the children were so well-behaved that if you weren?t looking for signs of family life, you may not even notice.

I think about how my own family struggled to keep up with annual extended family get togethers. After awhile, it was simply too hard and today, we barely see each other. Many of my American friends make huge efforts to keep those family bonds going despite the number of miles between them.

What seems to be common in my circles, are annual retreats. Parents live in one city or town, and siblings live in two or three others. Sometimes these gatherings are in their home towns and those with more money and time head to a holiday resort town or the mountains and rent a house or two.

It?s not quite the same of course, but its our ?modern way? of keeping family ties strong. In Israel, its expensive to live the kind of mobile lifestyles many Americans take for granted. Except for my high tech friends in Tel Aviv who have fat salaries, most Israelis are more likely to stick close to home and focus their attention on family life.

While two or three kids are not uncommon, the cost of living for a family of five is high. One friend?s $980 a month two bedroom flat in Ramat Gan would cost double in the center of Tel Aviv, a 15 minute drive away and they still can?t afford to buy a house. While my rent is more than double, their flat is on the outskirts, doesn?t have outdoor space, a designated parking spot, or an updated kitchen or bathroom. In other words, Tel Aviv is expensive.

Someone has to pick up their kids at 1 pm and if both parents work, it?s a tough schedule, particularly if there?s only one vehicle. My $21K Honda Accord costs $44K in Israel, so its no wonder that many families use public transportation or opt for only one car.

On my way to the airport, I watched my friend fill up his car for 265 shekels. That?s roughly 24-25 shekels a gallon (nearly $6) for a four cylinder Ford.

Israeli friends sent me to trendy shopping areas, such as Shenkin Street (a bit like NY?s SoHo for the youth), Shabazi Street and the Port of Tel Aviv (largely high-end designers). Even if the dollar was still at 4.5, it would have been too expensive to bother. Their Top Shop-like retail stores were also extremely expensive so I ended up leaving Israel with nothing but mud from the Dead Sea.

Some things are subsidized in ways I?ve never seen in my lifetime in the states, like healthcare and education. They don?t stress over losing their house if their kid needs a serious operation, because their out-of-pocket is manageable.

People also prioritize and are not sucked into ?retail therapy? like so many families in the states. They think of their children first and go without if it means giving their children a better life. It?s not unlike the mentality my first generation American immigrant grandparents had, which is exactly what Israel?s current generation is going through today.

While family isn?t a central part of my life in the same way it is for my Israeli friends, I it is a value I hold dear. Sadly, like many people I know, it is much harder to stay connected to family than in places like Israel, Europe and even South Africa, where it is not uncommon to have granny flats in backyards for elderly grandparents when the time comes.

When family is an integral part of the culture, it is automatically placed higher on the ladder than the values that currently sit on the top in the states, like education, our careers and independence. American?s hunger for freedom and living life ?our own way? allows us to explore the world, innovate and get rich, but it has a price.

We also haven?t faced the same hardships ? and on a regular basis ? as Israelis have. If you think about their day-to-day realities and compare them to the United States, its no wonder family is high on the list. Just think about the soar of marriages and pregnancies in the states soon after 9/11. It?s something to think about isn?t it?

U.S. Aid’s Tie to Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process

by on April 22, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Map At the San Francisco Commonwealth Club earlier this month, I attended a heated debate on whether U.S. aid should be tied to the Israel peace process.

Subject to congressional approval, the U.S. would pledge $27 billion in security assistance to Israel over the next decade. The discussion was whether this investment was in support of peace and whether it is a good investment for America.

Panelists included:
Dr. Stephen Zunes, Professor, University of San Francisco; Chair, Middle Eastern Studies
Alison Weir, Founder, If Americans Knew
Dr. Mitchell Ba/2008Author Myths and Facts
Dr. Uri Bar Joseph, a visiting professor of Israel Studies at SFSU
Jonathan Adelman, Author, The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State

Alison Weir was adamant about getting her point across that we only hear one side of the argument through the American media and suggested history as many of us know it isn’t entirely accurate. She argued that Israel has received more in U.S. tax money than any other country on earth and that Jordan and Palestine gets 1/20 to 1/23 of that.

She says, “Over half of our tax money abroad goes to a country the size of New Jersey.” And then she proceeded to go on and on about how Israel’s evil ways. How they tend to attack first, and then throws death stats out: Israelis have killed 982 Palestinians and 119 Israeli children.

While she ‘could have shown us’ a fair opposing perspective, she failed to deliver. Commitment to being right was too strong as it was for Dr. Mitchell Bard on the other side.

What I found frustrating was that each side seemed to have their own set of stats, which conflicted with every stat on the other side, and that instead of presenting fair arguments, it all just felt far too personal. The problem is that its not just a political or economic issue – it IS personal. It’s about land that both sides want and need to call home. Your home is about as personal as it gets.

Dr. Mitchell Bard probably had the strongest opposing view of the panelists who were in favor of continued aid. “Israelis hunger for peace,” he asserts. “How do we achieve peace in the Middle East when the Israelis gave up land in Gaza and Lebanon and terrorism continues? Israel must be able to defend itself and its land. Israel has traded land but where is the peace?”

There was tremendous polarity among the speakers, which in many cases made it counterproductive. In some ways, I wished they merely had each panelist make a 5 minutes opening remark and then move to the floor so we could engage with them and have a productive discussion about the issues at hand.

The topic is clearly a highly-inflamed one. I’m simultaneously reading The Lemon Tree and The Israelis, both of which are fabulous reads. After the read, you end up empathizing for both sides and end up in conflict.

And yet if you’re not Jewish, ask yourself the question: how far would you go to protect your homeland if you didn’t have one? If you had lost a couple of generations because of your religion, your family name?

After the event, I met a number of interesting people with views on both sides. An American Jewish lawyer who was pro-Israel had concerns that continued aid for weapons would only lead to more violence, never allowing a chance for peace. Other American Jews took different sides — it was really all over the map.

Another woman in her who was roughly 70 simply wanted to tell her story of how she led American students to Israel in the early seventies. How her Israeli husband still lives there and what it is like to spend half her time there and half of it in Silicon Valley. After walking down Market Street with her for nearly an hour, I wanted to hear her entire life story as well as her husband’s lengthy tale. I later got this lengthy tale which I’ll write about later.

It’s such a complex issue that its painful to go back and forth between so many scenarios. Israeli Uri Bar Joseph seemed to be the calmest of the panelists posing a solution that sits somewhere in between, a view that seemed reasonable and ‘kind.’

He felt that the money could be more wisely spent if we diverted some of it to rebuilding Palestine and Syria. He reminds us that 60% of both Israelis and Palestinians agree on some form of peace plan from the 2000 agreement. His approach of a quieter solitude rather than an angry “you’re wrong, I’m right” approach left me feeling more optimistic. There must be a solution to ending this conflict if both sides want to live side by side.

And on the business side, the world is very different. My world. See a March SJ Mercury News article about the growth of Silicon Valley Israel ties.

As the article points out, “tech history buffs may recognize the land where Jesus was born as also the birthplace of Intel’s Pentium chip and AOL’s ICQ instant-messaging service. As technology transforms the 21st century, the relationship between the valley and Israel is intensifying, creating a rich two-way flow of highly skilled workers, intellectual property, finance and commerce.”

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