Barkat voices his support for Intel
By JUDY SIEGEL AND ABE SELIG • Jerusalem Post
A day after violent haredi protests rocked the offices of hi-tech giant Intel in the capital's Har Hotzvim industrial park, Mayor Nir Barkat and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Sunday voiced unequivocal support for the company during an inauguration ceremony for its new International Die Prep-Jerusalem (IDPj) facility there.
Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post learned that the riots on Shabbat had been far worse than originally reported, and that in addition to the rocks and epithets hurled at journalists and other bystanders, haredim had broken into a synagogue on Intel's premises, thrown prayer books to the floor and used prayer stands to bash in the doors.
Intel-Israel officials told the Post on Sunday they were shocked by the "pogrom" inside the synagogue and expressed disbelief at the actions of the rioters. Company management said they had photos of the damage caused to the synagogue.
During Sunday evening's inauguration ceremony, Barkat expressed his faith that the city's diverse population could be brought together.
"I am a believer in the status quo and coexistence within the capital," Barkat said. "Intel has been working in Jerusalem for 24 years in this current framework, and there will be no change to it."
"I have worked and will continue to work to ensure the company's success and expansion, and to bring additional hi-tech factories to the capital," Barkat continued. "I back and support Intel's activities in Jerusalem."
Barkat went on to thank Intel for the goodwill gestures it has made toward all sectors in Jerusalem, including the haredi community, and expressed hope that the disputes would be resolved through talks.
"The municipality will do all it can for Intel," added the mayor, who has put hi-tech, biotech, culture and tourism at the top of his agenda.
Speaking next, Ben-Eliezer echoed the mayor's comments, but also sounded a note of warning, telling the crowd, "Those who think violence will solve the problem are wrong, and anyone who believes the government will tolerate riots and acts of vandalism is mistaken.
"It's perfectly acceptable that there are sectors with certain customs and demands," Ben-Eliezer added. "But violence and vandalism are not the answer. Everything can be fixed with understanding and mutual respect."
While Saturday's large demonstration was spurred on by calls from within the haredi community to target the company due to its employment of workers on Shabbat, Intel-Israel CEO and World Intel Vice President Maxine Fassberg, who also addressed the crowd on Sunday evening, said that the Har Hotzvim factory, which opened nearly a quarter century ago, has always operated on Shabbat, and the haredi community never sounded a word of protest.
Eighteen employees currently work there on the weekends, and the company's plan is for there to eventually be 31 employees at any one time working on the Jewish day of rest.
Two years ago, the Fabrication 8 facility, which had become obsolete, was closed and rebuilt into a new facility for processing chips made at Intel's $3.85 billion Fab 28 factory in Kiryat Gat, where there, too, operations continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but without protest from the local haredi community.
While government permits are required for companies to employ Jews on Shabbat, the original Fab 8 facility had such permission from the outset. When it closed for renovations two years ago, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor permit was no longer necessary, but negotiations to renew it are considered by management as a formality that will not be rejected.
Fassberg also said that to remain competitive and for logistical and manufacturing reasons, the facilities cannot be shut down, although Intel does shut down its facilities one day a year, on Yom Kippur, despite the losses and damage caused to the fabrication process.
After Sunday's event concluded, Fassberg told the Post that there was no truth to a claim that had been circulated in a number of Israeli newspapers over the weekend, which said that if the conflict with haredi protesters continued, Intel would consider leaving Israel completely.
The international company has 6,500 high-caliber employees in locations around the country whose staff have developed and produced some of the world's most advanced products, including wireless Internet.
Fassberg added that in the past year of world economic slowdown, Intel-Israel managed to keep its pledge not to dismiss workers. The company hopes to reach $3b. worth of production in 2009, she said.
Intel is currently one of the country's largest exporters, with nearly $1.4b. of exports in 2008.
[Hat Tip: Seymour.]