ISRAEL-GAZA… Here we go


This is probably happening to you as well.

I am lucky enough to live in a country of relative peace and stability. I have constant access to running water, food and shelter. Throughout the day when I am not with them, I have a general feeling that my kids and wife are ok. I don’t fear a bomb or missile will hit anywhere near my home and neither my immediate ancestors nor current relatives have been immersed in a history of war fueled by hatred, intolerance, mismanaged conflict and religious bigotry. I am lucky that way.

I see the current escalation of the Middle East conflict from afar. I read about it while I sip a cup of freshly brewed coffee in an air-conditioned office. I browse through the different news outlets unsuccessfully trying to get some sort of approximation of the facts because it is safe to say that international news media is biased one way or the other and has its own political agenda.  Then, I go into Facebook.

What is normally a social media website where my friends gather to publish pictures of their kids’ latest accomplishments, share the results of trivia such as “Which European City I should live in” and the like, has changed.

For some reason, it seems that a lot of people just recently found out about this age-old conflict and escalation and of course, EVERYONE has an opinion they feel the need to share. A series of YouTube videos which summarize the history of the region since its inception in a couple of poorly constructed minutes of animation, have apparently given all of my friends the means to determine if they root for Israel or the Palestinians in this conflict, as if this horrible situation were a soccer match. Friends in Mexico, U.S., Canada and elsewhere keep sharing these videos saying “this explains it all” and I’m invaded by hashtags pro and anti-Israel. Every so often, a hopeful #PrayForGaza line pops up.

Even sadder to see are some my friends of Israeli, Arab and Muslim origin, who are usually peace-loving and tolerant people, turned into soapbox salespeople for “their cause.” I see Jewish friends talking about how “we are just defending ourselves” and grouping all Arabs and Muslims under the label of “terrorist”. On the other side of the spectrum, my Arab and Muslim friends from different nations talk about “we were here first” and the disproportionate use of force and possible war crimes of the current Israeli government attacking Gaza.

Their friends in turn comment on their posts. They tell them “We are with you” and “we support you,” which is an expected reaction from people who love them and see that behind their outbursts is an unequivocal truth: their people are hurting.

The problem with this dynamic is that it only heightens the blame game and draws conflicting sides even further away from a conception of conflict resolution or at the very least, conflict settlement. Do posturing and trying to establish that one of the warring parties is supposedly right or wrong, change the fact that innocent lives are being lost by the hundreds and have been suffering for too many years? Does it do anything else than by some twisted manner create a virtual reality of self-justification for killing others? Does posting these highly biased but supposedly educational videos make you sleep better at night?

To my Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian, Arab and Muslim friends from different countries: I AM WITH ALL OF YOU AND NOT WITH ANY OF YOU.

I am with you in empathy while from a distance I see you and/or people you hold dear in the way of immediate danger and suffering; when I see blood-splattered bodies of innocent men, women and children regardless of their color or creed. I am NOT with any of you when I see you seeking support or justification for violence from any of the parties involved in conflict. I am with you in the hope for steps forward and toward peace, such as cease-fires, peace talks, and a brokered process towards a reality in which all are allowed basic rights. I am not with you when you falter from the belief that this peace is attainable and when you corner yourselves to a reality where bullets are the only vehicle for getting your message across.

To my friends who are not directly or indirectly linked to this conflict, but who’ve succumbed to the temptation of expressing support or sponsorship of one of the warring sides, an invitation. I invite you to try to get the facts and do a little bit of research on the historical conflict that has brought the region to the crisis it faces today. I invite you to create your opinion based on an attempt to obtain objective and verifiable facts. I understand this means a lot of work but if you are not willing to do it, then I at least invite you to understand that by forming an opinion based solely on a biased YouTube video, you don’t look cool or intelligent or “in-the-know”. Moreover, by supporting and sharing these videos which only feed the blame game and promote positioning and posturing, you are actually worsening the conversation by skewing it away from the prospectus of a peaceful solution. Instead of trying to form an opinion about who is right or wrong, see this as an invitation to learn and understand complex conflict in human interaction, to identify its root causes and thus its possible solutions and to make sure you don’t bring hatred into your OWN realities.

So from my air-conditioned office half-way across the world, I say to all of you what John Lennon so brilliantly wrote once: All we are saying, is give peace a chance.

Global Majority – Statement on the Middle East


Dear friends,

I urge you to take a couple of minutes to read and support the joint Statement drafted and approved by the International Advisory Board of Global Majority on the current Crisis in the Middle East.

Global Majority is an international NGO dedicated to the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution through education, training, and advocacy.

Please disseminate the message among your network by reposting / sharing these links:

I can’t thank you enough for your support and for investing a bit of your valuable time in making sure that international silence or even worse, uninformed or destructive dialogue hinders possibilities to promote peace in the region. I continue to believe it is attainable and hope you do too.

Best wishes,


Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs – By Greg Smith


This was published today bythe NYTimes. An interesting Op-Ed “artilcle”/resign  letter by Goldman Sachs Executive Director worth discussing:

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.


To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.

But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of advising two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia. My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.


Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.

These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.

When I was a first-year analyst I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a derivative was, understanding finance, getting to know our clients and what motivated them, learning how they defined success and what we could do to help them get there.

My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.