When they go abroad on vacation — or in the case of the upcoming Mobile World Congress, on business — Israelis prefer to leave politics behind. The “big questions,” like Israel’s treatment of Arabs or Palestinians and the settlements, hover constantly over Israelis at home.
Somehow, though, those issues tend to follow them wherever they go. On the theory that Israeli entrepreneurs and developers are going to be faced with questions about Israeli politics, society, and life, Yael Shany and Rami Kalish organized the Tzav 8 to Barcelona program, to train Israeli business people in hasbara, presenting Israel in a positive light.
It’s not about painting a false picture of the country, said Shany; the problems are there, and ignoring them won’t make them go away. Tzav 8’s brand of hasbara has more to do with Israel’s image as a tech power, and how the talents and skills used by entrepreneurs to build international business empires are also used to improve civil society, both in Israel and around the world. Tzav 8 “ambassadors” show the side of Israel that few abroad are aware of, such as the positive contributions of the high-tech community to ensuring that Israeli Arabs can participate in Israel’s technology industry, or the ways technology is being used to help save lives in emergency situations.
“The purpose of Tzav 8 is to provide Israeli business people with positive messages about how Israel is using its high-tech capabilities to improve the situation of others around the world,” said Shany, who has been organizing and running the event since 2009. “Israeli business people going out to Barcelona are Israel’s best diplomats, because they can talk about the country’s positive tech contributions, the ones that people don’t hear about abroad.”
About 2,000 Israelis are set to depart for Barcelona to attend the Mobile World Congress, which will take place between February 24 and 27. More than 2,000 Israelis representing over 190 companies will be presenting their mobile apps, network technologies, and hardware and software solutions to more than 70,000 visitors over the course of the event. Israel always has a strong presence at MWC, and this year, more Israeli companies will be attending than ever.
The Tzav 8 event — the term refers to the emergency call-up orders issued to IDF soldiers when the country is attacked — was attended this year by about 150 people, including CEOs of start-ups, investors, and representatives of companies, both Israeli and multinational, who will be traveling to Barcelona to make deals. The event, which was held at Cisco Israel headquarters in Netanya, featured panels on how tech companies were using their resources to provide equal opportunity for all in Israel, and how Israeli companies were working with foreign governments to provide innovation to help the underprivileged abroad.
The conference was opened by Rami Kalish, co-founder of Tzav 8 with Shany and a founding partner of Pitango Venture Capital fund. “2013 was an excellent year for Israeli tech, with some very impressive exits of start-ups and veteran companies, along with a steady stream of new start-ups developing promising technologies. Israel is seen as a high-tech superpower,” and as such, he said, the country’s tech community has an obligation to continue providing help where it could to those in need, to “help boost the economy in all ways and contribute to the image of Israel.”
Shany said that Israel was perceived around the world as an innovator, but other countries were making great efforts to innovate themselves. “We can’t rely on just the success of a few companies to generate a positive picture for Israel’s high-tech industry,” she said. “We have to make sure that we ‘spread the wealth’ and help companies from all sectors and levels of society to succeed.” Particularly, she said, tech needed to marshal its resources to help two groups — Arab women and haredi men — get into the workplace.
Panel members and speakers included Prof. Yossi Matias, head of Google’s Israel R&D center, Eyal Waldman, co-founder and CEO of Mellanox, Boaz Maoz, head of Cisco Israel, along with a panel of ambassadors, including Carl Magnus, the ambassador of Sweden to Israel, Andreas Michaelis, Germany’s ambassador to Israel, and Eamonn McKee, Ireland’s envoy to Israel. Speaking in a panel discussion, McKee said that Israelis were an inspiration to high-tech entrepreneurs all over the world, including his country.
“Because it is so large and influential, the telecom community here is a key factor in presenting Israel’s image in the world, and is representative of the country’s high-tech accomplishments,” said Shany. “On our travels, whether to Barcelona or elsewhere, we can promote the image of Israel as a tech power when we promote our companies. We also have the opportunity to promote the image of the country we live in and are proud of, and we should take that opportunity.”