If Sara Netanyahu asked me to tea (which she won’t), I would totally say yes, and not for the reason some might think (opportunistic writer who’ll kiss anybody’s a– for a story! Well, maybe in my ’20s…)
It has more to do with Vanity Fair than vanity.
Maybe last month’s excellent Vanity Fair profile of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu left more questions asked than answered, but among its many interesting sentences was this: “For all his country’s successes in high tech, he doesn’t much use a computer, or surf the Web, or text; in his spare time he reads McKinsey reports and books on Jewish history or biographies–”
As if to shore up that observation, the piece invoked the shivah for Sara’s father, Shmuel Ben-Artzi, and suggested that she more or less hornswoggled her husband into reading some of her late father’s work when the PM might otherwise have been tooling with his Blackberry, texting or cheering on the latest Israeli start-up.
There is something fundamentally lacking from both American and Israeli start-up culture and that is this: a near complete absence of culture. A dearth of depth. An outwardly suave but essentially bloodthirsty hunt for venture capital and greasing of the purse strings of the diabolically named “angel” investors in the hope of underwriting the next big Facebook du jour.
Make that stupid Facebook du jour. Start with the epicenter of digital hell: Silicon Valley. Show me how even one-tenth of the start-ups that have emerged from that intellectually scintillating region have actually done anything other than fattened a few corporate drones’ bottom lines and promoted creative decay and maybe I’ll be nine-tenths on the way to believing you.
Because empirical analysis points to colossal waste of time and regression of the culture: unchecked capitalism, or rather capitalism, throws humanity to the wolves just as fecklessly as did Soviet communism. It’s stupid, pointless, raw, anti-revolutionary, conformist and above all, troublingly misogynistic.
Enough of these blurred visionaries, virtually all male and all poorly dressed, co-opting and despoiling the English language with inane start-up names like PickleFeather and PluckNose and WaPoo…linguistic testament to the mind-blowingly selfish and reductive nature of the whole enterprise.
No one could ever mistake San Jose for Rome. Hell, it terms if what it has done for humanity, it isn’t even Palermo. Humanity has been more enriched by street art in Tel Aviv than by anything to ever come out of Northern California other than the original Banana Republic clothing and fermented grape juice.
If American start-up culture is stripped of all sense of culture from the get-go — and it is — where does that leave Israel’s? In a fragile place.
Are there exceptions? Are their some smart start-ups out there which on balance have done more to enrich society than thin out humans’ wallets so that VC fatcats can flit from capital to capital in their shiny corporate jets? Sure.
Just, not enough.
If ever there were an industry that needs to impose compulsory education in the humanities on its “workers,” it’s the tech start-up industry. Poetry! Philosophy! Quiet contemplation colored by the likes of Shmuel Ben-Artzi and, why not, Lady Gaga? Because most start-ups have no sense of fun either — there’s nothing light and bubbly about wanting to make money simply for the sake of making money.
It’s what makes New York ultimately a horrifying place, and Silicon Valley a boring place.
Where does that leave Tel Aviv? Give women like Sara Netanyahu more credit, and that leaves it with one amazing asset: Potential.