TEL AVIV — Every army needs its boots.
In Israel, where the military has always played a central role in society, footwear for the troops has proudly been supplied locally since the country's founding in 1948. But that may be about to change.
Shimon Horowitz, head of the military division for Brill Company, which manufactures army boots in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion, fought in vain during a company finance meeting earlier this week to keep the factory from shutting down.
The operation, which employs 120 people, is closing its doors because the Israeli Defense Ministry has informed the company that, starting in January, it will no longer be ordering boots from Brill. Government officials are citing budget considerations, saying they can order boots from the United States more cheaply.
Horowitz in turn has argued that Israel is violating its previous commitments, and that it doesn’t make sense for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to buy boots from elsewhere.
“Every self-respecting military has a local factory that produces its shoes,” says Horowitz. “Every defense minister, all the CEOs of the Ministry of Defense, have always said that most of the production will be in the country. Everyone promised that.”
Boots, boots, sandals, boots. (Hoyasmeg)
The factory has existed since 1948, and in 2001 the company added another production line after winning a Defense Ministry contract worth $7 million. “We went into a three-year development period to develop a new shoe,” Horowitz says. “In 2004, we started to produce the new shoes, and to this day we supplied over a million pairs.”
The bootmaker complained that earlier attempts to work with the IDF to improve the quality of the shoe were difficult. When the factory made it clear that a new model would hurt the feet of the soldiers and cause blisters, he says the army responded “It’s OK, they’ll get used to it, they are soldiers.”
Horowitz says that if the military budget is the problem, the factory could accept payment for 2014 the following year. He says he’s communicated that but hasn’t receive a response from the Defense Ministry.
Horowitz wonders what will happen when the Israeli army has emergency requests for boots, which has happened in the past. “We get calls all the time with emergency demands,” he says.
During the second Lebanon war, the company even brought 5,000 pairs of boots directly to the field because there weren’t enough for everyone. He says the factory worked 24/7 to supply the army no questions asked, and now, he says he's “shocked that nobody cares” that his workers will suddenly be unemployed.
“We are supporting tens of thousands of families, including the workers of Brill,” a purchasing department official with the Israeli Defense Ministry says. “We are the first ones to make sure that the production remains local. We are also the first ones to make sure that the factories will remain functional and open. But when there are budget cuts, it is obvious that it means less work for factories.”
Israeli Parliament member Michal Biran accuses Brill of crying wolf, claiming it needs the government contract to keep its doors open. “It’s obvious what is going on here. You are extorting us in order to get additional budget,” he says. “You are holding the workers of Brill hostage.”
In fact, it’s little wonder Horowitz is so determined: Though orders from the government had already begun to fall earlier this year, production of the military shoes remained one of Brill’s most profitable ventures during the first half of 2013.
Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.
At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.
The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.
The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.
Praying inside a Dutch mosque.
Broken trust in Islamic community
Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.
All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.
It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.
"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
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