Sunday, November 22, 2009

Intel Inside? Prove It.

Here is a thought experiment. It is Sunday, and various employees of Intel's R&D and consulting facility in Chantilly, VA, just outside of Washington, are working through the week-end. The facility is suddenly surrounded by several thousand evangelical Christians--mainly educated at Regent University, and led by the aged Pat Robertson--who demand that the company shut down the facility, so as not to violate the holy Sabbath. Windows are shattered by rock throwers. State police move in, but do not disband the mobs.

So Intel's senior management go into a huddle. They authorize the local management team to meet with Robertson's representatives, along with representatives from the Virginia governor's office, now in the hands of rightist Republicans. At first Intel threatens to pull out of Virginia. But finally they approve a compromise agreement. The facility can stay open, the agreement states, but the shifts will be reduced. Also, on Sundays, only non-Christians can work there.

Imagine, in this fantasy, what the Intel board would face at the next shareholders' meeting. Or imagine the employee emails the corporation's global "Director of Diversity," Rosalind Hudnell, would be fielding the next morning.

IF YOU HAVEN'T already heard, something quite like this just happened in Jerusalem. A week ago Saturday, Intel's facility on Har Ha'Hotzvim--a technology park in a belt of land near (but not at all in) the burgeoning ultraOrthodox neighborhood of Sanhedria--was surrounded and vandalized by acolytes of various Haredi rabbis, most notably, the leader of Eda, Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss. Intel met with representatives of the Haredi groups, facilitated by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin--both rightists tied to Haredi voters. The Sabbath shift, so the "compromise" stipulates, will be cut from 120 employees to 20. None of them will be Jews. (By the way, this absurd agreement may have satisfied most, but not Rabbi Weiss. His mobs were back yesterday demanding a complete shut down.)

What can Intel's leadership possibly be thinking? Have they lost all sense of who they are, let alone what Intel has meant to Israel? Intel's global sales are roughly equal to Israel's GDP. Intel's billions of dollars of investments in Israel have not only made it the country's largest high-tech employer, but have engendered dozens of entrepreneurial businesses, from software to clean-room building.

Even more important, perhaps, Intel has been something like Israel's most important business school, putting thousands through management and quality training over the years. Its impact on Israel's business culture has been something like MIT and the Sloan School on Cambridge, Mass. It is because they experienced companies like Intel that a new generation of cosmopolitan managers (people who, unlike their parents' generation, know how to listen) has grown up in the "Silicon Wadi" of Tel-Aviv, Herzliya, and Haifa. Indeed, Intel-Israel's former CEO and founder, the legendary Dov Frohman, has a briskly selling book on leadership. My God, if Intel will not stand for ordinary secular norms of human rights in Israel, who will?

PERHAPS THE MOST depressing thing about this affair is the way Intel's management seems to have concluded that this is the price you pay for operating in a Jewish state. Intel's employees chant, "Bum-bum-bum-bum"; employees in the Jewish state are now and then forced to add, "Cheery-beery-bum!" Okay, this may not be the place to go into it, but Intel's decision implicitly capitulates to the notion, so casual among many clueless American Jews, that Israel is a something like a big shtetl, run to a great extent by Halachic rules, rationales, and rabbis. This capitulation is dangerous: to Israeli Arabs, to Palestinians, but above all to Israel's secular citizens who mostly consider themselves Jews in a wholly different way.

Look, last week, on a glorious Friday morning, my wife and I drove to Tel-Aviv and participated in a lively seminar to celebrate a new Hebrew translation of Freud's Moses and Monotheism; in the afternoon, we saw a brilliant, elegiac show about the settlements of the Valley of Jezreel by the Kfar Yehoshua artist, Eli Shamir--our budding Andrew Wyeth. This Hebrew version of the global thing, including a Hebrew version of Intel, is the real reason for this country. You can have Shabbes in Teaneck.

Which is not to say that Intel executives should take sides in a Kulturkampf to decide the historical reasons for Zionism. It is to say that Intel should just have the guts to be itself: to stop pandering, to stop thinking that it shows its tolerance for diversity by surrendering to diversely intolerant people. In fact, a majority of Israelis are counting on the conscience of the world to help them muddle through against Hamas on the one hand, and, on the other, the one-third (and growing) part of the of the Israeli population who want, say, the national orthodox assassin of Yitzhak Rabin to be released from prison. Intel, and all global companies operating in Israel, should be a pillar of (here, I'll say it) Western values. Allow fanatics to push out this pillar, and our souls will die with the Philistines.