Newly-empowered political leader Yair Lapid is perceived as being the best friend high-tech has in Israeli politics. And with the Yesh Atid party set to play a major role in the next Israeli government, tech leaders are looking forward to a new focus on government efforts to improve education, encourage innovation, and enhance the atmosphere for investments and start-ups.
It was perhaps no coincidence that newly empowered political leader Yair Lapid’s first politically-oriented public appearance, in February 2012 — before his Yesh Atid party even had a name — was before a crowd of high-tech CEOs, managers, and executives at the MIT Enterprise Forum in Tel Aviv. At that event, Lapid laid out the basics of what he hoped to accomplish in his race for the Knesset, and among his objectives was improving the atmosphere and conditions for technology development, creating a better infrastructure for small and medium-sized tech companies to innovate, and pumping funds into the country’s science and technology education programs at all levels, from elementary school to university.
One of the sponsors of that event was the Start-Up Stadium blog, authored by Izhar Shay, the head of Israel operations for the Canaan Partners venture capital firm. Several months ago Shay began polling tech executives on which party or politician they thought would do the most to ensure that the high-tech industry thrives. The results were announced a week before the elections, and leading the pack by far was Lapid, with 35% of those responding saying he would be the best candidate for Israeli high-tech.
Following Lapid with 26% was Naftali Bennett, himself the owner of a successful startup (security firm Cyota, acquired seven years ago by RSA). Perhaps surprisingly, Shelly Yachimovich of Labor came in third, with 24% of tech executives preferring her as prime minister — this, despite her stance that tech workers should be unionized, a plank most tech CEOs think is a terrible idea, Shay writes in his blog. And despite his trumpeting of the previous government’s efforts to promote high-tech, the executives who responded to Shay’s poll gave the current prime minister a very low score; only 6% thought Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies were good for tech. The reason, Shay speculated, may be because tech CEOs believe Netanyahu did not do enough to promote the peace process, making it harder for them to develop business contacts.
Lapid told Shay he felt that the “balance” Yesh Atid brought to Israeli politics was the reason he got such high numbers. “Yesh Atid is the only party that is not socialist like Labor, and is not a neo-liberal party that believes in privatizing all government functions like the Likud. High-tech people are also educated people who understand that life requires balanced solutions.”
In its party platform, Yesh Atid proposes a series of steps that the party contends will make Israeli students smarter, and Israeli businesses more successful: making technology, math, and science the cornerstone of school curricula, from elementary grades and on; developing policies that will remove red tape for foreign investors who seek to put money into Israeli businesses; developing a program to ensure that ultra-Orthodox Israelis serve in the IDF and join the labor force, thus boosting economic activity; growing the budget for scientific research in universities and expanding program’s in the Chief Scientist’s Office; and promoting government programs to provide assistance to graduates of elite IDF units to establish their own start-ups.
Speaking at the February event, Lapid said that Israel needed to develop policies to grow the high-tech industry at home and figure out ways to encourage companies to invest in their future, instead of selling out to the first multinational that makes a decent offer. “I know many people in the tech industry dream of an ‘exit’ for their company, with some large foreign corporation offering to buy them out. But I dream of more CheckPoints,” Lapid said, referring to the large Israeli security company, known for its development of firewalls. CheckPoint has remained an Israeli company, and is today the world leader in security technology for servers. “We need to keep our technology here at home, and build strong companies for Israel.”
Lapid is determined to make changes to Israel’s education system and encourage social change, at least to some extent, and he’s got very definite ideas on how to do it: Speaking to Shay, Lapid said that the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor was a good place to implement his ideas, and at the event last year, Lapid said that if he had his choice, he would asked to be named education minister. “Foreign minister would be acceptable as well,” he said “but not finance minister.”
Apparently, there are some changes Lapid would prefer not to have to deal with as a first-time government minister.