"We were born a million ideas ago and we've been developing ceaselessly since then. We're curious, independent, impatient, target-focused, experts at doing the impossible, and also very immodest, because, after all, we're Israelis!" This is how a new Ministry of the Economy and Industry short public relations film presented this week at a conference of the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem begins.
The self-satisfaction of the audience over-topped Mount Scopus, before sinking lower than the Valley of Gehenna. The first to puncture the inflated egos was Noam Bardin, founder of Waze, which was sold to Google for $1 billion. "We should be more modest about the Start-Up Nation. We're very full of ourselves, but in the last analysis, no one in Silicon Valley thinks much of Israel," said the man rated among the five most influential people in Silicon Valley.
"Israel's early-stage startups are interesting, but Israelis aren't returning from Silicon Valley. They move in only one direction," Bardin declared. According to him, Israel is no less of a crazy and special place than it is in the Ministry of the Economy and Industry film, but not in a positive sense. "Try to explain to someone born in the US or India why an Israeli engineer can't work on a Saturday to maintain a system that he built. They'll ask why they need a development center in a place like this. Everywhere in the world, there are issues of financing and personnel. Israel is unique in the regulatory challenges it poses to investors."
Regulation, however, is only a small part of the story. Israel is a country of two economies. The 9% of Israelis who work in high tech are talented and ambitious; the other 90% are exhausted and mediocre laborers. Wide inequality and low achievement – these are the two characteristics of the Israel labor force that repeat themselves in every comparative measurement at every stage of life: from kindergarten to elementary and high school, and to the labor market. Bank of Israel Research Department director Professor Nathan Sussman presented to the conference results of IQ tests. Israelis find it difficult to answer simple questions, such as how many bottles there are in two cartons of bottles. "Everyone here is snickering," Sussman said "but it's very sad, and this isn't just a problem of the disadvantaged. Even when you look at people with higher education, where are we in comparison with others? In the same place as Chile and Turkey. The quality of teachers? Maybe a bit better than Turkey. This is a general problem. You do have to take care of high-tech people, so that they don't run away from here," Sussman concluded, "but the main task is to take care of the 80% who are lower on the scale. We have to address inequality."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on June 22, 2017
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