How Adam Neumann Used the Mystique of the Kibbutz, and Much Mumbo-Jumbo, to Make a Bad Business Idea Seem Appealing

Following its dramatic rise, WeWork—a company renting office space that billed itself as an innovative startup—was revealed in 2019 to be a house of cards, and quite possibly a scam, with an unworkable business model and questionable practices. At the center of its story is its charismatic Israeli-American founder and former CEO Adam Neumann, who somehow made many millions off the venture. Matti Friedman reviews Billion Dollar Failure, a new book about Neumann and his company:

If WeWork had been merely a rapacious business that failed, the story wouldn’t be much fun. The narrative electricity here comes from the loopy culture of the tech world, which requires its capitalists to speak a language of ideals—you are not out to make money, God forbid, but to connect people or save the planet or, as Neumann liked to say, “elevate consciousness.” (On the podcast WeCrashed, one of Neumann’s detractors had a good name for this: “yoga-babble.”)

My own introduction to the phenomenon, around the same time WeWork was gaining steam, came when I was reporting on a press conference for the launch of an electric car made by an Israeli startup that was going to change transportation forever and make the world green, or something. A reporter sitting next to me asked the CEO an innocuous question about how investors planned to make money. The CEO looked down from the stage as if he’d been asked about a recent case of syphilis and informed us, “I work for your children.”

As Neumann reinvented himself in America as a visionary CEO, with a certain Israeli mystique working in his favor, he made much of his kibbutz background. WeWork was a community, a kind of capitalist collective. People renting desks weren’t tenants but “members.” They’d share resources like coffee machines, printers, and fruit-flavored water and have unplanned yet productive meetings in the corridors. Sure, they were paying, but that wasn’t the point—the point was We. It was, he told Haaretz, “Kibbutz 2.0.”

Despite all of its subject’s babble, Friedman concludes, Billion Dollar Failure tells a “very human story of greed, ego, and gullibility.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewry, Kibbutz movement

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad