Netanyahu meets chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba in Jerusalem
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Netanyahu meets chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba in Jerusalem

Jack Ma also visits the offices of Israeli startup OrCam and meets with officials of venture fund JVP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Alibaba founder Jack Ma on May 2, 2018. (Haim Tzach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Alibaba founder Jack Ma on May 2, 2018. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday with the visiting chairman of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Jack Ma, touting the opportunities for collaboration.

“There are amazing opportunities here,” Netanyahu told Ma during the visit in Jerusalem. “The most important thing is that we have here a convergence of your excellent business sense and your technology together with our technology and our innovation, and innovation is key.”

“You are a very successful leader in a very competitive business and in a very competitive world, and the world belongs to those who innovate. Israel is the innovation nation,” Netanyahu added, calling on Ma to invest in Israel.

Ma said that he has received a lot of requests and is meeting a lot of people in Israel. “In the coming two days we will be very busy,” he said, adding that he was exploring business opportunities in the country.

Ma noted that Israel is a much more peaceful country than he expected, with a strong economy and security.

This is the third time that Netanyahu and Ma have met, the previous encounters coming in Davos in January 2016 and in China in March 2017. During both these meetings Netanyahu invited Ma to Israel.

The Alibaba delegation at the offices of OrCam in Jerusalem; 2 May, 2018 (Courtesy)

Ma also visited on Wednesday the offices of Israeli startup OrCam, a startup founded by the founders of Mobileye, Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram. The auto-technology firm Mobileye was sold to Intel last year for a whopping $15.3 billion.

OrCam is a developer of devices to assist the blind and visually impaired using artificial intelligence. The Chinese visitors tried out the technology, and also got a briefing about Mobileye.

“The visit of many senior international representatives to Israeli companies once again demonstrates the strength of Israel and its ability to change the world,” Aviram said at the meeting, according to a statement. He added that it was important for the firm to introduce its product to Alibaba, as the technology can empower people with all kinds of visual impairments.

Ma and his delegation on Tuesday visited the offices of venture capital fund Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), with whom the Chinese firm is partnering to invest in Israeli tech startups. At the offices, the delegation met with JVP executives including Erel Margalit, its chairman and founder, and portfolio companies of the fund.

JVP chairman Erel Margalit, left, with Alibaba’s Jack Ma, second from left, at JVP’s offices in Jerusalem on May 1, 2018 (Courtesy)

The Chinese business magnate, investor, and philanthropist is scheduled to give a talk to students at Tel Aviv University on Thursday, as well as receive an honorary doctorate from the university and meet with researchers in the fields of artificial intelligence, engineering and computer sciences.

The Chinese firm made its first foray into the Israeli startup market in 2015 when it invested in Visualead, a Tel Aviv-based startup specializing in developing “designer” quick response codes. Later that year it partnered with Israeli venture capital firm JVP to invest in multiple Israeli tech startups. It has also invested in Israeli startups such as Twiggle, Infinity Augmented Reality, Lumus and ThetaRay. The firm has also announced plans to set up an office in Tel Aviv as part of a $15 billion global R&D program.

China, the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy, is still a “relatively minor player” in the Israeli economy, focusing almost exclusively on strategic investments, a report by IVC Research Center said in February. Chinese direct investments, mergers and acquisitions, and buyout activity make up at most 5 percent of the total activity in Israel, the report said.

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