Tech people aren’t overly concerned about the anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic headlines that have been cropping up in places like India and Ireland over the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Relations between the high-tech industries there and the “Start-Up Nation” are just fine, they say.
Leading business people in both countries who work to develop relationships between Israeli start-ups and local firms say the tech relationship will survive the hostile Protective Edge-generated headlines.
To observers in the Israeli tech industry, the contrast between the tone before and after the start of the conflict has been stark. If just a few weeks ago the majority of stories on Indian news sites discussed new business deals and the prospects of an India-Israel free trade agreement, sites are now full of stories criticizing New Delhi for failing to speak out loudly enough about “Israeli atrocities.” Mass protests have been held against Israel throughout the country, and India’s sizable Muslim population is even boycotting brand names like Pepsi, Coca Cola, and Nescafe, because they do business in Israel.
In Ireland, nary a positive media story about Israel can be found these days. Politicians, both junior and senior, scourge Israel, pull down Israeli flags at events, and call for the arrest of IDF officers and Israeli political officials on “war crimes” charges if they dare to travel to Europe. The decision Wednesday by Ireland to abstain from a resolution condemning Israel at the UN Human Rights Council has only led to louder anti-Israel screeds. Only the US voted against the measure, and Israel denounced it as biased.
While there have been protests against Israel’s operation throughout Europe and Asia, Ireland and India are especially significant because many of the ties between the two are specifically tech-oriented. Both countries see Tel Aviv as a role model to develop a start-up infrastructure, providing jobs and opportunities in economies that need new sources of growth. In interviews with The Times of Israel, dozens of entrepreneurs, CEOs, and government officials in both these countries have expressed admiration for Israel’s tech accomplishments, as well as the desire to emulate them.
It would take very strong ties indeed to overlook the anti-Israel atmosphere in the media and on the streets — and to overlook the perceived dangers of traveling to Israel as Hamas aims rockets at its financial capital, Tel Aviv, which for most tech industry people from abroad is the Israel that they know.
And yet, in interviews with The Times of Israel this week, key figures in the tech relationship between Israel and both countries say they are still “loyal” to the Start-Up Nation — and that Israelis shouldn’t pay too much attention to the media.
That, for example, is the message for Israelis from Vishal Dharmadhikari, who has helped arrange many business deals between Israeli start-ups and Indian companies. “Nearly all the protests against Israel are being conducted by the Muslim population,” said Dharmadhikari, and if it seems as if there are a lot of people in India opposed to Israel, it’s because there are a lot of Muslims — over 138 million — in the country. “Of course there are a lot more Hindus, but they are the silent majority,” said Dharmadhikari. Despite that silence, “there is a strong pro-Israel sentiment among Hindus, and especially among those in the tech community.”
Unlike the US, where many politicians are open in their support for Israel, Indian leaders who are pro-Israel usually remain quiet, while those favoring the Palestinian cause are often much more vocal — so it can appear as if India veers towards the side of the Palestinians when conflicts erupt. According to Dharmadhikari, this has been an issue ever since Israel and India established diplomatic relations in 1991. “Political opinion has usually echoed in line with the Palestinians’ cause, but regardless, we have continued to build ties with Israel on agriculture, clean-tech, defense, etc. That is something most Indians are very happy about, and want very much to see continue.”
The situation is similar in Ireland, said Clyde Hutchinson, a Dublin native who directs the Ireland-Israel Business Network, which is dedicated to developing tech ties between the two countries. “I can understand the question, but as everyone knows, tech people tend to overlook politics, even when there is a major political storm going on. Regardless of what the politicians say, there is a great deal of positive sentiment for Israel and for our business relationship with her,” said Hutchinson.
Events such as the FAA’s temporary ban on flights to Ben Gurion Airport could have put a damper on those ties — but people in tech tend to forget things like that once they pass. “For example, there is a major tech event coming up in Israel in September,” said Hutchinson. “I haven’t heard of anyone canceling their participation yet. We recently held a competition for start-ups, in which the first prize was a trip to Israel to meet entrepreneurs and investors, and we had hundreds of applicants.”
Israelis working in Ireland aren’t feeling tension, either, according to Ehud, an Israeli entrepreneur working in Dublin. The Israeli tech community there is small, but active — and doesn’t try to deny its affiliations. “Personally, I find most of the surrounding environment very friendly and accepting. I haven’t encountered any hostility or negativity here. If anything, I think people are genuinely curious to know and better understand the complexities of the Middle East,” he said. He asked not to publish his last name for business reasons.
“Yes, the media here is slightly biased; Yes, there are activists here that do not side with Israel; but these are unfortunately in abundance everywhere, I think,” he said. “Pro-Palestinian efforts are not anti-Israel, and while I agree that some parties here are not necessarily friendly towards Israel, it is a dangerous generalization.”
One reason for that, Ehud said, is that entrepreneurs in the tech business tend to be “free thinkers” — representing themselves and their own views, not those of their government. “Most of my Israeli friends here feel strongly against being perceived in Israel as individuals who should promote Israel’s agenda. Unfortunately, this perception is strongly conveyed from acquaintances and friends in Israel.” It’s the same for entrepreneurs from abroad, he added. “When living abroad, one tends to go about political affairs more from a personal perspective rather than act as a channel of communication for any Foreign Ministry.”