Her brother, Dan Senor, and her husband, Saul Singer, wrote the bestselling book Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. Here are some excerpts of what she said:
Israel has one of the highest density of start ups in the world: 5000 or 1 for every 2000 people.
When it comes to ranking nations by innovation (a term that refers to a country’s competitiveness, ability to attract capital and talent), the rankings are:
#1 – Switzerland
#2 – Finland
#3 – Israel
#4 – United States
The hottest sectors for start ups in Israel are software, mobile telecommunications, life sciences, and big date, and in particular, cyber security and digital health. When countries are ranked, per capita, for R & D expenditures, South Korea is first and Israel is second.
Q: What is innovation? What is a start up?
Innovation is something that disrupts current technology. A start up is anything from an idea with a team, to a product with a team, to a product with a team and funding.
Israel attracts more venture capital per capita than any other country except the United States.
During the rocket attacks of 2014, when many start ups in the south of the country had to close up for several weeks, Tel Aviv start ups provided space for their competitors to work.
300 companies set of R & D centers in Israel. Normally, when a company sets up an R & D center in a foreign country it does so for one of two reasons. Either it wants to take advantage of the local market or it views the country as a regional hub. Israel’s local market is too small and it’s too isolated to be a regional hub. Instead, they are looking for Israel’s innovation. They look at a start up as the basis for operating here.
Wendy identified three key ingredients for Israel’s start up culture:
1) Government support
2) Immigrants = entrepreneurs
3) IDF training
Regarding government support, that normally means lower taxes, less regulation in the tech center, etc. In Israel, however, in the early-to-mid 1980s, start ups were starved for oxygen (investors), and so the government stepped in to support with Yozma, which provided material support.
Regarding IDF training, many start up entrepreneurs began in elite tech units. They also learned a set of soft skills in the army, like risk taking, leadership training, strategic thinking, mission orientation, having a vision of something larger than themselves, and tolerance for failure.
Another important difference we see in the Israel entrepreneur is their age. Because of army service, they are often delayed going into business. After they get out of the army, they often work at other companies and then decide to get a degree. As a result, the average age is 34.
In sum: in Israel you have a vibrant ecosystem plus tech talent plus a tiny market looking for overseas funding.
Q: What is the effect of the BDS movement?
It’s like it’s in a parallel universe. The tech world is in its own bubble.
Q: How many women participate in start ups.
It’s not great. Roughly the same as in Silicon Valley, namely mid-to-high teens. But it is getting better.
Q: What about Haredi women?
One of the main problems facing this sector of the economy is the lack of human capital. To fill that gap, they are looking at three areas: the haredi, Arabs, and women. Facilities created where haredi women can work together. Also allow for haredi men to work together in the afternoons after 2 pm and when their studies end.
Q: What percentage of the Israeli economy is start up? Is it narrowing or widening income inequality?
When the session ended, we had a ten-minute break followed by a "Meet the Press" Roundtable
Majdi Halabi, Israeli Druze correspondent for Mor TV (Lebanon)
Smadar Perry, Correspondent for Yediot Ahranot, covering the Arab world
Isabel Kershner, Correspondent for the New York Times covering Israeli and Palestinian affairs
Moderator: Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich
Here are some excerpts of their talk:
Q: It’s been 10 years since the Second Lebanon War, which has led to a decade of deterrence. My question: has there been any change in the Arab media coverage of Israel? Is there more dignity, more respect? Or has it become more extreme?
Majdi: There have been a lot of changes, particularly in regard to Hezbollah. In 2006/07, they were presented as heroes. Now, in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, the media want more negative information on Hezbollah.
They do want information on Israel but for “under the table,” not for publication. They are now looking for lots of positive stories about Israel, but not to print. They want the point of view of Israeli citizens. Now they want interviews with Israeli politicians. A Saudi paper contacted him to conduct a direct interview with an Israeli politician. This is happening more and more. Sure, all the time they are printing articles about the need to solve the Palestinian problem and why there should be a two-state solution. At the same time, they want information on what’s happening inside Israel.
So there’s more coverage, it’s more balanced, but they also want real stories from the inside. Not just from the perspective of the Arab countries that view Israel as an enemy. This is being driven in particular by the Iranian issue. In addition, he’s also delivered secret messages from Arab leaders to Israeli officials, but he wouldn’t speak more about that.
Smadar: Lebanon isn’t really a country any more. The Saudis indicated their displeasure by cutting off their funding. There will either be an explosion or the Sunni part will join the emerging Sunni coalition of Saudi Arabia, Tunis, Jordan, and Egypt. There is a Sunni channel of secret discussions. ½ of Lebanon is waiting to see what will happen.
Q: Turkey. Are the winds of change real? Will we see a warming of relations?
Smadar: It’s not a love story, but we will have an exchange of ambassadors. People are ready to do business, but there will be no normalization of relations.
Q: Why are you critical of relations with Turkey?
Smadar: This is driven by the personality of the president, Erdogan. He is a Muslim Brother at heart. He’s dictating policy. Trade is working, and there are early signs of security cooperation.
Q: In terms of coverage of this agreement, what about the high price Israel has had to pay (vis-à-vis compensation)?
Smadar: There is no enthusiasm in Israel for this agreement, but it is seen as a must due to the situation in the region. There are several things going on “under the carpet,” mainly the efforts of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. They have mutual interests.
Q: Recently there has been a decline in the number of foreign correspondents in the region, what are the main areas of interests for the media?
Isabel: I wouldn’t call it a “decline” but a “decrease.” There’s no question that the number of correspondents in Israel has gone down. Israel is not longer the center: Syria, Iraq, ISIS – there is huge interest in these stories. Nothing much happening on the Israel/Palestine front.
This is also partly a result of the Syrian civil war, which has pushed it off the front pages. There’s still interest in some subjects: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (violence vs diplomacy), or the study of a politician or a nice archaeology piece.
Q: The present wave of violence, to what extent is this incitement from Hamas TV? What about Hezbollah and Hamas social media? What are they doing? What is their main message?
Madji: Hamas and Hezbollah have invested a lot in social media, in Facebook, twitter, etc. Their main message is that Israel must be destroyed; Palestine is an Islamic country. There is an enormous emphasis on the al-Aqsa Mosque and on the religious persecution of Muslims. All of Israel belongs to Islam. Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
How popular are their messages? You cannot argue religion with anyone. Violence will not decline because it is drive by religious views. Which are most popular in social media? It’s hard to say. Now, one sees a prominent Sunni/Shi’a split among social media outlets. Hezbollah is more Shi’a. The Sunni sites now tend more towards Israel against Iran and Shi’a states.
Al-Jazeera is now a station for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Arabiyah is more Saudi oriented.
Smadar: A 17-year old Palestinian boy killed a 13-year old Israeli girl in Hebron. Following that the Arabic media covered the story. Abu Mazen did not condemn it. He praised the murder as a martyr and the family will receive stipend from the PA.
The government has a new proposal: deport the family of terrorists, either to Gaza or to Syria (the no man’s land). The world community will try to stop it and the Supreme Court will probably strike it down.
Q: What about Egypt?
Smadar: The foreign media lost interest in Israel after the Arab Spring. Israel was happy when the regime changed from Morsi to el-Sisi, and worked behind the scenes to support Sisi.
Only recently, Egypt shocked everyone by admitted they had 91 million citizens (they had previously only said there were 60 million Egyptians). Every seven seconds a baby is born in Egypt. Currently, the two prior leaders of Egypt are alive. That’s the first time that’s ever happened.
Q: What about relations with Netanyahu?
Smadar: el-Sisi initiated a weekly phone call to Netanyahu. Morsi, by contrast, couldn’t even utter the name “Israel.” Mubarak was disconnected from reality, and this led to his removal from power. Israel’s relationship will remain under the table until there is a strong interest from the Egyptian side to change it.
Q: Israel is spending a lot of time and money on advocacy efforts. Is it doing what it needs to do?
Isabel: There are plenty of advocates; the problem is policy. I get lots of advocacy, but little useful information. No amount of advocacy can make all the frustrations of the region go away. There is no shortage of advocacy.
The stories on the food pages about new restaurants, cheeses, and wines will not replace the news on the foreign pages about the conflict.
Q: It’s been about a year since the Iranian Agreement and it’s off the coverage completely. And Iran continues to throw gay people off the roof.
Isabel: The Iran Agreement was about the nuclear issue and not internal Iranian issues. The big story was the clash between Israel and Obama. Once that was done, the story diminished. There haven’t been any “stop the presses!” violations. It’s in the Iranian interest to stick to the agreement for at least five years. Even several Israeli officials say the agreement has put the nuclear issue on the back burner. There’s been a drop in the perception of the threat.
Q: Concerning the coverage of the Palestinian issue in the Arab media, do they care about it? What is the focus? Is it about raising sympathy?
Majdi: The Arab countries are more focused on their internal issues (e.g., Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt); they’ve put the Palestinian issue off to the side. They say “it’s important, platah, platah, but then tell me not to bring any stories from the West Bank. AP and Reuters can cover that.”
Yesterday, the editor of Mor TV called me about Netanyahu’s trip to Africa. I asked why he’s interested. He said “there’s a lot of Hezbollah people in Africa, what can Israel do about the transfer of funds?”
Smadar: Here’s a positive story: Rawabi. al-Masri comes to Yediot Ahranot in the very early stages and organizes a big bus to take us. There’s lots of excitement, but only seven reporters came. I closely followed the developments with Bashar al-Masri. Some Israelis were very helpful in finding him funding. I put him in touch with economics, legal advisors, professors from Tel Aviv University. The media was very helpful. I wrote many articles. “This is a beautiful project and Bashar plans to widen it, but his leader, Abu Mazen, has never visited this place.”
and then it was off to one of my least favorite museums in Israel: The Museum of the Diaspora. We were originally supposed to be able to walk through the museum on our own, but somehow a guide showed up. The museum begins with a lie - that Jews were forced into the Diaspora in the year 70 by the Romans
- and ends with a lie - that the only future for Jews is to make aliya and live in Israel.
Instead of being a celebration of the variety of Jewish experiences and communities around the world, it is about shlilat ha-galut, the negation of the exile.
Thankfully, they have a few new exhibits that were far more interesting. Many of us abandoned the tour and found some interesting exhibits on say, alternating views of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron on Jewish and Muslim days,
an exhibition on the 30th anniversary of Operation Moses (which brought the Ethiopians to Israel), and a retrospective on Bob Dylan (which I only had five minutes to see).
We had to rush to a meeting with someone whose name I didn't get (they started 2 minutes early and I was late as I had gotten some coffee). He read us an excerpt from Rogers Brubaker from his new book Grounds for Difference, but I must admit I wasn't particularly impressed with the discussion. He seemed very excited by a post-modern analysis of Diaspora, ethnicity, and nationality. All I could think was: how wonderful that you are catching up to the 1980s.
The session that followed was far more interesting. We met with Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, the Executive Director of Tebeka (Advocacy for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis) and Alex Rif, the founder and artistic director of Cultural Brigade, a group of young Russian-speaking Israelis who were born in the Soviet Union, but grew up in Israel. They spoke about the experience of being a new immigrant in Israel and the kinds of discrimination they and their communities face.
Fentahun talked about how his organization, which provides free legal representation to Ethiopian Israelis, fields about a 1000 calls a year. Their specialization is racism and discrimination, and they refer out to other partner organizations to handle the load. One of their primary areas of interest has been in excessive policing. Last year they sat down with the Chief of Police and asked for an admission of responsibility for a policeman's violent attack on an Ethiopian Jewish soldier. They've demanded body cameras, and in August there will be 200 such cameras and by the end of 2017, all police will wear them. They also have been pushing for the recruitment and promotion of Ethiopian officers and for language accessibility in forms.
I asked about the status of the Ethiopian kesim (a kes is an Ethiopian Jewish priest). Fentahun said they are not recognized by the rabbinate, nor can they lead services at the Western Wall. There is an Ethiopian Chief Rabbi, but they are trying to make him retire at 67, even though the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi can serve into his 80s. Not only that but he doesn't even have the status of rabbi, and is officially a clerk in the Chief Rabbinate.
He also recounted a very bitter joke that "the Ethiopians are spare parts for the Yemenites."
Alex talked about being part of Generation 1.5 - Israelis who were born in Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union but grew up in Israel. They live and think in Hebrew, like those born here, but they also have this prior Russian experience. She talked about the big fight to get the rabbinate to understand that the holiday of Novigod - the Russian New Year - is not a Christian holiday. It was one of the only holidays that Stalin permitted and it was purely atheist.
Then it was back on the bus. We had a break before our final session of the day, so I went to Dizengoff and bought a new notebook, and found a fantastic book (in Hebrew) on the history of the German Colony and Emek Refaim in Jerusalem. This is the neighborhood where I lived from 1998 to 1999. It's by David Kroyaker, who I met in 1999, when my father and I stumbled onto a tour organized by the US embassy and managed to join it. He led us through the Temple Mount, including the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and Solomon's Stables.
On my way back to the hotel, I passed my father's elementary school on Frischman St.: Tel Nordau.
Around the corner was my grandfather's old apartment on Ben Yehuda:
Our final session of the day was a doozy: an exchange between Professor Benny Morris, the most prominent of the so-called "New Historians," and Professor Yoav Gelber, one of their more prominent opponents.
David Ellenson introduces Benny Morris
From left to right: Dr. Benny Morris, Dr. Yoav Gelber, Dr. David Ellenson.
Again, what follows are excerpts:
Benny Morris: All national movements, all revolutions, and all new states write their official histories of their movements and how they succeeded. The official histories of Israel were written in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s by the participants, and they swept the embarrassing things under the surface. Everything was rosy, everyone was wise.
In the 1980s, a new generation of historians emerged: “The New Historians.” Three books are published in 1987 and ’88. These books revised the traditional historiography, providing more balance, more room for the Arabs. I called them the “New Historians” because it made our opponents, the Old Historians, and gave us a leg up.
Ilan Pappé wrote a bad history, Avi Shlaim wrote a good one, Tom Segev was very important. In addition, there was Simha Flapan, and Ori Milstein. They were fresh to the field with open minds. The Lebanon War happened in 1982 and before that, the 1973 war was the first unsuccessful one, and shattered the illusion of the competence of the generals.
They were also influenced by western trains of thought. In addition, the opening of the archives in the late 1970s/early 1980s in the US, Britain, and Israel, under the 30 Year Rule, provided large numbers of new documents and cast a new, revisionist light on the events.
Avi Shlaim’s book, Collusion Across the Jordan, explored the Zionist-Jordanian connection, and he argued that they essentially colluded in the 1948 War and reached an agreement to partition Palestine between the Jews and the Jordanians. It was a tentative agreement, but when the war ended, the final borders essentially were what was agreed to beforehand by Abdullah and the Jewish Agency.
Ilan Pappé did his Ph.D. on Britain and the Middle East and claimed that Britain engineered what happened.
I wrote on The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem and it was the first documented book on the subject. I showed that Israel didn’t have a pre-planned expulsion, nor was it the result of Arabs fleeing because of Arab leaders. They fled because of the war.
Tom Segev isn’t an academic, but is a trained historian and a journalist. His book, The Seventh Million was very important, and looked at the Zionist movement’s reaction to the Holocaust and how Israel’s leaders used it, like Begin in 1982 talking about Arafat in his bunker in Beirut. It angered a lot of Israeli historians because he was a journalist, not a historian, and he wrote a book that everyone bought.
Some people claim that the New Historians were motivated by left-wing politics. I don’t think this is true; maybe for Ilan Pappé. Politics didn’t drive the group.
Did the New Historians have a political impact? Their books emerged in 1987 and 1988, during the first Intifada. Was there a connection? I don’t think so. Rabin was not influenced by the new historiography to make peace with Arafat.
I can only think of one example of an effect: Yossi Beilin once told me that he recommended my book to his aides in order for them to understand the Palestinians’ thinking.
My book was annoying to Israelis because my book made moral underpinnings. Now this work is widely accepted and seen as truthful and honest.
Yoav Gerber: I arrived from a different place.
I began by studying things on the periphery of the Holocaust: the Yishuv, the Transfer Agreement, and the volunteers to the British army.
From there I transitioned into the history of the IDF and the absorption of central European Jews.
I looked at the history of Israeli intelligence, which lead me into the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel-Jordan relations, and Israel-Druze relations. That, in turn, led me to historiography, where I published a book called Kummiyut v’nakhbah (Establishment and Catastrophe).
I see the following reasons for the appearance of the New Historians:
1) Their appearance coincided with the emergence of post-modernism.
Pappé and Segev take their ideas from post-modernism. This also includes the appearance of critical sociology and critical anthropology. This feeds into post-zionism and post-colonialism.
2) Changes in the Israeli ethos.
Traditionally, Israel was collectivist, putting the pioneer at the center. In the late 1980s, individualism was emphasized. The New Historians abandoned communal solidarity and the willingness of the individual to sacrifice for the whole, and this is reflected in their field of historiography.
3) There was a gradual blurring of the lines between historiography and the social sciences. Baruch Kimmerling has no problem writing history, but I’m not sure he knows what history is. They don’t understand how to use sources, what the best sources are, etc.
My books came out in the 1970s, and I used archival material. The archives of 1948, yes, those were new, but the other archives opened earlier.
The New Historians were not really a group: more of a cluster of individuals from different places, focused on different issues. Not enough there to define them as a group.
Pappé, Shlaim, Segev, and Hillel Cohen do have something in common: anti-Zionism.
Historically, Zionism was accompanied by anti-Zionism of three kinds:
1) Haredi – which saw Zionism as trying to force the end of days
2) Communist-socialist, in which the whole world was to be redeemed, and the Jews would be simply saved along the way
3) Western liberalism – in which the Israeli academics of can be traced back to this.
Morris: I agree that the New Historians are not a group, but individuals, but they did have some things in common. They were all outsiders. They all trained in England. Most wrote their dissertations in Oxbridge; Tom Segev in Boston. They did their research on non-Israeli things, and came to the subject with fresh eyes. They looked as it as European historians, which gave them a fair amount of objectivity.
Gerber: I'm opposed the hypocrisy of the left and the stupidity of the right. The hypocrisy of the left was the belief that we are to blame for the fact that there is no Palestine. The stupidity of the right is the belief that we can get rid of the Palestinians.
Q: To what extent did the 2000 Camp David summit and its aftermath change your view of Israeli history?
Morris: this is a common misunderstanding. They think because I published a second version of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem in 2004, then I must have revised my views. I didn’t. I simply expanded my research. Where I did change my views wasn’t in my history, but in my political writings. Before I wrote about massacres of Palestinians, and in the revised book I added more material on massacres that I found.
Before 2000, I was cautiously optimistic that the Palestinians were ready and willing to make peace. Now, I’m convinced that the Palestinians have no willingness to make peace. My historiography hasn’t changed.
Q: You’ve been quoted as saying that if Ben Gurion had gotten rid of the Arabs in 1948, this would have been better for Israel.
Morris: Had the ’48 war ended more clearly, either way, then the Middle East would be more peaceful. Had the Jews either been pushed into the sea, or the Arabs into the desert, then there would be peace. I’m not recommending that Ben Gurion should have done it. No point in 2016 of going into it. We had an intermixing of populations in 1948, which was exacerbated through the conquest of 1967, and even more so by the creation of settlements since then. This has made it much more difficult to resolve.
Q: It is important to remember and create reconciliation around the events of 1948?
Gerber: There have been major events since 1948. The roots of the major problems – refugees, borders, Jerusalem – began in ’48, but the main issues aren’t there. The big issue is that the Muslim world doesn’t recognize Jews as a nation, but insist we are a religion only. The conflict began well before 1948, from at least 1920.
There is a clash of mentalities, such that both sides are hardly intelligible to each other.
In Arab culture, conflict ends through mediation.
In European culture, conflict ends either with conferences or surrender.
Morris: The refugee problem is the critical test. For the Palestinians and the Arab world, the return of the refugees is a demand of justice.
For Israelis, if 5 to 7 million Palestinians return to Israel, Israel would cease to exist. That’s what it was about in 1949, and that’s been consistent Israeli policy to this day.
It is the central event; 1967 is an addendum. It was a moment of a struggle for survival. The Jews recognized their survival was at stake and that’s why they won. The Palestinians didn’t understand that until after they lost.
We should also state that there has been no proper Arab study of the 1948 War. No proper, critical history in the Arab world. Arab states have never opened their archives. There is no basic history, there is no revisionist history, there is no self-critical or objective study of their own role.
Q: What about Walid Khalidi? Rashid Khalidi? They’ve written about this. In the absence of a state, institutions, support, how can you expect them to be able to do this? Also, can you provide a source for the quote about driving the Jews into the sea?
Morris: Pappé’s first book was based on his dissertation and was a run-of-the-mill Ph.D. After that, everything he’s written has been politically motivated and slanted, full of distortions, misquotations, and mistranslations. He’s “really trash,” but “I like the guy.” Efraim Karsh, on the other side of the spectrum is just as bad.
The line about “throwing the Jews into the sea” was a part of Zionist discourse. I found that Arab leaders in 1948 rarely used the phrase. It was used, though, in broadcast propaganda. The Secretary General of the Arab League, Azzam, did use it in his conversation with Alec Kirkbride, and it was in Arab minds. Three years after the Holocaust, Jews can be forgiven for thinking this was their intent.
Even if it wasn’t their intent, had they overrun Tel-Aviv, they would have killed a lot of Jews. One sees it today.
As for the Khalidis, Walid wanted to write a history of ’48, but never did. Rashid Khalidi is at Columbia, and he has written some passable works. He is slightly critical of Haj Amin el-Husseini for rejecting the 1937 Peel Commission. But he is mostly uncritical of their side.
Look, they are not a state. It’s much easier for us who have won to write critically about our own side. In addition, while Khalidi is in New York, he has family and cousins in Jerusalem. Depending on what he writes, he has to be afraid that someone may take it out on his family here.
Q: Why would Arab leaders need to be careful about using the phrase about throwing the Jews into the sea?
They received money and arms from the Britain. They knew it wouldn’t look good to the British, the French, and the Americans to be saying such things three years after the Holocaust. It wasn’t politic.
Q: What do you think about Avi Shavit’s claims that without the Lydda massacre, he couldn’t live in Tel-Aviv?
Morris: Shavit is very clever, he writes well. He gets the facts of the Lydda chapter basically right. He just put it in the wrong context. Lydda doesn’t represent the war. In 80-90% of the villages there were no massacres. This isn’t “the black box of Zionism.” Before 1948, they bought the land. In 1948, they fought back.
There was no policy of expulsion. Some generals threw the Arabs out, others didn’t. In April 1948, Ben Gurion said that he would prefer that there would be fewer Arabs in the Jewish state, but this was never adopted as policy.
Gerber: the expulsions from Lydda and Ramle were about those two cities. They were seen as an Arab fist ready to strike Tel-Aviv. That’s why they were expelled. But their expulsion were about them; it wasn’t typical or representative of the ’48 war.
Gerber: the most important thing is post-1967:
1) the return of the Palestinians to the centrality of the conflict
2) the emergence of radical Jewish extremism
Morris: 1948 remains the primary issue.
That was it for the day. I had dinner, typed up my notes, and went to sleep.