Recently, at the Jerusalem Press Club, I hosted Marcella Rosen, the author of “Tiny Dynamo: How One of the Smallest Countries Is Producing Some of Our Most Important Inventions.” Amazon advertises this book as a “fascinating collection of 21 stories detailing Israel’s inventions that benefit all of mankind. From desalting the ocean to the tiny PillCam that videos your insides, the Flash Drive to spinal surgery robots, watering the desert with drip irrigation, blasting breast tumors and curing major diseases: Israel is a hotbed of start-ups and idea incubation wildly disproportionate to its tiny size.”
Rosen brought to the book launch four of the inventors whose stories she had told in the book, and as I listened to these fellow Israelis, I couldn’t be prouder.
People are familiar with a previous bestseller, “Start-up Nation,” which, according to the book’s website, “addresses the trillion dollar question: How is it that Israel — a country of 7.1 million”, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources — produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada, and the U.K.?” Furthermore, ask authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer, “(h)ow is it that Israel has, per person, attracted over twice as much venture capital investment as the US and thirty times more than Europe?”
One of the main reasons the authors suggest for this unique excellence is the fact that Israelis serve in the army in their most formative years (18-21), thus acquiring qualities like leadership, risk-taking, decision-making under duress, improvisation and more, which later serve them as they aggressively push the high-tech envelope.
Indeed, in the case of at least one specific Israeli, this explanation seems to be true. This man served in the prestigious Sayeret Matkal elite unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, and upon being discharged, he founded and owned Cyota, an anti-fraud, encryption and network security software company. In 2005, at the age of 33, he sold the company to the Massachusetts-based RSA Security for $145 million. “We fight the fraudsters of the world,” this proud founder and chief executive told the Jerusalem Post. “We protect the customers of banks when they make acquisitions over the Internet.”
Eight years later, another company he had run, Soluto, a cloud-based PC management service, was bought by the Nashville-based Asurion Corporation for more than $100 million.
Having obviously made enough money, the man we are talking about went into politics. His name is Naftali Bennet, the leader of the right-wing HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish House) party, who is today’s economy minister of Israel.
One would assume that the same spirit which had motivated Bennet the entrepreneur, namely, of collaborating and being engaged with the world, would also guide him in his political career, especially when Israel’s economy is so vitally dependent on its export and on external investments. However, Bennet the politician turned out to be different.
Last August, when Israel was preparing to renew its participation in the E.U.’s Horizon 2020 program (which means hundreds of millions of dollars for Israeli research and development), it turned out that the European Union had set new guidelines, barring cooperation with Israeli bodies that have ties to West Bank settlements. According to Haaretz, Bennet, alone around the cabinet table, not only suggested that Israel should defy the E.U.’s new rules, but also urged his colleagues to end all cooperation with the European Union. Luckily, he was overruled, and a compromise was reached.
I’m not suggesting that Israel should sacrifice its vital interests only to please other governments or to become the darling of international public opinion. But Israelis are split about the issue of the settlements, and two out of three of them consistently show support for a two-state solution, where some of the settlements are bound to be evacuated. Few Israelis, on the contrary, are willing to be isolated from the world’s economy.
People who encourage Israel to brave the rest of the world tend to quote David Ben Gurion, the founder of the State of Israel and its first prime minister, who had said that “(i)t doesn’t matter what the goyim [gentiles] say; all it matters is what the Jews do.” Except that Ben Gurion used this fiery rhetoric only to boost the morale of the Israelis, while, in practice, he was extremely cautious about Israel’s standing in the world.
In 1956, for example, after a long period of being harassed by terrorist infiltration from Egypt, Israel conquered the Sinai Peninsula. Ben Gurion, swept momentarily by delirious emotions, revived the grandeur of Biblical times by announcing the establishment of the “Third Kingdom of Israel.” It took a threat from the Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin and — more importantly — an angry telegram from President Dwight Eisenhower for Ben Gurion to immediately cool off and for Israel to pull out of Sinai.
Bennet, an Orthodox Jew, seems to be adhering to the Biblical saying about the Jewish People, adjusting it to today’s Jewish state: “A people that dwells alone, not reckoned among the nations” (Num. 23: 8-9).
I, for one, prefer to subscribe to what God said to Abraham: “Through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen.12:3).
This is what businessman Bennet had been doing before he went into politics. This is what Israel should be doing as well.
Uri Dromi is executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club.