Volume 3, Number 154
'There's a Jewish story everywhere'

Friday-Saturday, July 10-11, 2009


Alas, Israel also has its share of imaginative con artists

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM—David Ben-Gurion said that Israel would be a normal country when it had thieves and prostitutes.

By this measure, there not any doubt of Israel's normality. Perhaps B-G was already out of touch. And for those who remain naive, we do not lack for reminders.

This is not a story of Russian immigrants using their old country contacts to arrange the transport of ladies from the Ukraine and Moldavia through the Sinai to the Promised Land with the help of Bedouin smugglers.

Rather, it is something which began with large headlines on the front page of The Marker, a business newspaper distributed daily along with Ha'aretz. There had been another sale of an Israeli invention to an international firm. This one would solidify Israel's place as a source of great innovations with the capacity to save lives. The name of the company was Life Keeper, and its creation was an electronic button that would stick to the chest of a person who had heart disease. Without requiring any penetration of the skin it would monitor levels of blood sugar and other indicators, and warn of an impending heart attack 30 minutes before the event. It would communicate via the wearer's cell phone to a center that would alert the patient and physician in enough time to save a life.

The spokesman for Life Keeper interviewed on prime time television was introduced as a doctor. When asked how the device could analyze blood without penetrating the skin, he explained that the scientific creator had produced an algorithm that did the analysis. Also involved in the company were one other doctor, as well as the individual recently picked by the prime minister as the principal negotiator for freeing the Israeli soldier held prisoner in Gaza.

All the pieces seemed in place for another Israeli breakthrough. Life saving, money making, backed by

reputable scientists, a substantial input ($300 million) provided by a major international firm that had purchased one-third ownership of the company, representation by a major Israeli law firm said to have examined the documents and confirmed the transfer of money, and connections with government at the highest level.

You've heard about prospects that are too good to be true.

It took less than a day for Globus, another Israeli business journal that is a competitor of The Marker, to raise some questions.

Two days later, prime time coverage and extensive reports in print were continuing, but in the mode of "Can you believe this?" or "Who could have believed this?".

The two doctors involved in the project turned out to be dentists. Not only were there no cardiologists on board, but all the physicians interviewed indicated that they had never heard of the project. There was no coverage in the medical literature that would have been expected for such a development.

Hadassah Hospital denied that it had been involved in testing such a device. When asked if the US Food and Drug Administration had approved the device, the Manager of Life Keeper said that he did not know. The international firm that was supposed to be the prime investor, sometimes described as British and sometimes as Taiwanese, said that it had never heard of the Israelis or their invention.

And who was the source of the algorithm that was the essence of the invention? An ex-con with several convictions for involvement in other projects that were too good to be true.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University. Email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

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