I never really considered Israel as a possible destination before Columbia, mainly due to the fact that I hail from Indonesia, which, along with the Arab League and Malaysia, maintains no formal relationship with this tiny nation in the Southeastern Mediterranean. I am unsure if my fascination about traveling to Israel can compare to an American’s toward Cuba (at least prior to President Obama’s attempt for diplomatic normalization). The history of this contested land is undoubtedly more complex – spanning 5,000-year-long accounts of the three largest monotheistic religions that make and unmake people, nations, and civilizations.
And yet, despite being literally situated in the middle of a “war-zone” (more to this later), Israel is charging ahead. With government’s R&D expenditure nearing 4% of GDP, Israel (mainly its beachfront city, Tel Aviv) has become the most prominent tech hub outside Silicon Valley. Waze, the Israeli start-up that was acquired by Google for $1bn, has long been Jakartans’ favorite app to navigate the city’s notorious traffic. Having long embattled many forms of religious extremities, Israel calmly resumed its activities undisturbed despite recent attacks in Jaffa – much like how the people of Indonesia speedily shrugged off the January 2016 attack in the heart of Jakarta. And just like Indonesia’s fraught relationship with Total E&P on the Mahakam natural gas block, mega discoveries at Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan offshore blocks have led to headline news over the government’s partnership with Noble Energy.
Our first two days were centered in Tel Aviv, where Ezer and Amir (Class of 2017) spoiled us to unbelievably delicious Mediterranean fares, crazy fun night-outs, and opportunities to learn about government & business relationships. On top of our visit to Noble, where we discussed the delicate balance between national energy security, regulatory changes, and investors’ confidence, we spent our Sunday learning about Israel as a “start-up nation.”
But how did innovation & entrepreneurship culture come about in Israel? The answers seemed to revolve around the Jewish culture’s discouragement of strict organizational hierarchy and encouragement for informality. It is okay to challenge your boss; and it is a-okay to fail (“Your in-laws would have expected it at some point”). As a country of immigrants surrounded by unfriendly neighbors, Israel was also forced to stand on its two feet to ensure the existence of a top-notch defense industry – one that later on gave birth to a dynamic tech scene. Israel’s next challenge is how to now transition from a start-up nation to a “scale-up” nation, especially as its best and brightest are sought after globally — contributing to a potential brain drain in the country.
I learned more about Israel in two days than I have had in a lifetime. Our next couple of days will bring us to sample Druze cuisine and to the Golan Heights, where we allegedly can view the Syrian territory (and if we are “lucky”, the live military conflict!). More on the next post!
Aphrodita R. Kasih (Class of 2016)
Chazen Israel Spring 2016, Group A