Beyond boycotts: Israelis, Britons in tech space get along ‘famously’

Politics is the last thing on the minds of entrepreneurs and executives in the high-tech industry, says a visiting executive

Israeli start-up Pricence accepts first prize in the 2014 MasterCard Israel Technology Award event. (Courtesy)
Israeli start-up Pricence accepts first prize in the 2014 MasterCard Israel Technology Award event. (Courtesy)

On the surface, the relationship between Israel and the United Kingdom appears to be rife with politics. Artists have said that they will not appear in Israel, while teachers and academics have called for boycotting Israeli conferences. Even the renown physicist Stephen Hawking has said he wants nothing to do with Israel.

In the tech world, though, Israelis and Britons get along famously. Geoff Iddison, a top executive at MasterCard and a UK national himself, said that at his company, the issue of politics “has never come up. There has never been a question in our company about working with Israel, certainly not because of such matters,” said Iddison, executive vice president for M&A and Investments at MasterCard Europe. “For us, it’s all about the innovation we find in Israel.”

Iddison was in Israel to meet financial technology start-ups, as part of a new MasterCard program called TechTrek.

“Israeli innovation is a byword in our industry, and the skill set of Israelis for financial technology is extremely strong. We are used to seeing good ideas come out of the Israeli start-up community and we would like to establish stronger and more meaningful ties within this network of innovative companies,” Iddison said. Politics, he insisted, was not on the agenda of MasterCard, and other businesses that are serious about innovation and growth.

And Israelis feel the same way about working with the United Kingdom, according to a survey by New Wave Research polling firm which is part of Nielsen Israel group.

In the survey of 250 executives and investors from Israel’s high-tech industry, 26 percent of the executives and 15 % of investors said the UK is the first or second most attractive country for them. Within Europe, the UK is a leading destination: 55% of investors said it is the most attractive destination for tech and business collaboration and 68% rated it as one of the top two; Sixty-four percent of tech executives held the same views.

Perhaps most importantly, only three percent of those surveyed mentioned anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments as a factor in their business relationship with the UK. So despite the headlines, professionals in both countries are happy to work together to advance their businesses.

Geoff Iddison (Courtesy)
Geoff Iddison (Courtesy)

The positive perception of the UK in Israel’s business community is at least partially due to the work of the UK-Israel Tech Hub, a special department of the British Embassy in Israel that is dedicated solely to developing business relationships between Israeli and UK firms.

According to Hub director Naomi Krieger Carmy, “our focus is promoting commercial partnership, to make connections and show Israeli companies opportunities in the UK,” she said. “We have been working with start-ups and large companies in a number of programs. There are incredible partnership opportunities for companies on both sides. Israeli innovation can ‘go global’ via Europe’s business capital, and British companies can gain a global advantage by tapping into Israel’s tech ecosystem.”

And as far as Iddison is concerned, even the characteristics that many Israelis themselves disapprove of – the gruffness and impatience of many of their countrymen – is a reason to like doing business with Israelis.

“Clearly the Israeli personality is different than the European or British one, but I personally find it refreshing. Israelis are direct and get to the point, and tend to skip the niceties that just waste everyone’s time. As they say in the States, Israelis talk turkey. For them, and for us, it’s all about the business, and how we can help each other.”

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