A Light Unto the Nations – Innovation Showcase at AIPAC Policy Conference 2020

Our American-Israeli daughter sometimes chastises me – with some justification – that I focus too much on the conflicts and challenges faced by Israel, and not enough on the positive aspects of Israel. Why, after all, do we love it?

So, while there was plenty of talk at the 2020 AIPAC Policy Conference about politics, conflicts, dangers, and challenges, with some terrific uplifting presentations as well (most notably by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and by Daniel Gordis – the videos of their presentations are must-see), and many references to those politicians who did NOT attend or speak at Policy Conference, this article will focus on the positive.

Much of the pre-Conference talk by current and former Democratic Party candidates for President was about whether conditions would be put on the $3.8 billion in aid provided by the United States to Israel, even though virtually all of those funds are spent in the United States, making aid to Israel a U.S. jobs bill and stimulus package even as it assists Israel’s ability to defend itself. But the underlying premise of such a position is that the U.S. provides this aid and gets little back from Israel in return.

The wisdom of AIPAC’s Policy Conference planners is that they ensure that the Conference showcases ways that Israel does indeed give back. Speakers discuss how Israel provides intelligence and security knowledge, how Israel is the leader in assisting the U.S. planning for and defeating cyber-attacks, how Israeli military technology is used to protect the safety of American soldiers and is used to develop technologies that have civilian uses as well that benefit Americans at risk.

And the annual Innovation Showcase demonstrates how Israeli startup companies provide solutions that benefit the world. Whether it is desalination and other water innovations (including water drawn from the air) that are being used to assist California and developing nations with water security, or medical technology that allows paraplegic and quadriplegic persons levels of mobility never before possible, these innovations establish that Israeli companies are indeed giving back.

This year’s Policy Conference was no exception. Here are my take-aways:

UBQ Materials (https://www.ubqmaterials.com/) literally takes landfill waste and turns it into a plastic-like, recyclable material through a patented process. According to UBQ’s website:

The production of UBQ material uses unsorted, residual municipal solid waste as its primary feedstock, diverting it from landfills and reducing emissions.

UBQ Material stands apart by saving more emissions than are created in its production and yielding a negative net carbon footprint. No other thermoplastic material offers this environmental benefit.

Talk about giving back. This technology converts unsorted solid waste into usable products, reducing the amount of landfill and reducing CO2 omissions.

ECOncrete (https://econcretetech.com/) is another Israeli company providing products that rebuild our ecology. With shorelines eroding, coral disappearing, and other coastline deterioration, ECOncrete produces bio-enhanced admixtures for concrete. As its website says:

ECOncrete® provides high quality cost effective concrete products including, bio-enhancing concrete additives, science based designed forms and form liners, applied to precast or cast-on-site ECOncrete® elements. ECOncrete®’s innovative solutions reduce the ecological footprint of ports, marinas, coastal protections schemes and urban waterfront projects, while adding to their structural integrity.

The issues that ECOncrete seeks to solve are the same issues bedeviling coastal communities throughout the United States, and not just on the ocean coasts. Recent stories have discussed erosion issues along the shores of the Great Lakes as well. The technology can be used to, for example, rebuild sea walls, and support the health of coral reefs and oyster populations. Here again, an Israeli innovator is providing potential solutions to issues that are important to the lives of Americans, solutions that also help the environment.

Cyber-security for private enterprise is one of the most important and costly issues of our times. Passwords are particularly vulnerable to hackers; password management and related help desk services alone cost some American companies millions of dollars each year. An Israeli company with my favorite name among the innovators, Double Secret Octopus (https://doubleoctopus.com/passwordless-single-sign-on/), has developed a multi-factor double authentication method that does not use passwords, making systems less exposed to phishing and other hacker strategies, and giving IT professionals the ability to spend their time on more useful pursuits. It combines user name, mobile device secondary authentication, and biometric confirmation to eliminate the need for passwords across technologies.

The Octopus Authenticator offers a simple “touch-and-go” experience – users approve a secure push notification and provide a biometric identifier using the available sensor on their enrolled mobile device.

One of the most fascinating medical technologies showcased at AIPAC 2020 was from Surgical Theater (https://www.surgicaltheater.net/), a virtual reality technology that allows neurosurgeons to practice brain surgery before the operation, visualize the surgery and lesions that may be encountered from different angles impossible in the real world, and allows patients to participate in the preparation while gaining a better understanding of what the surgeon will do. This technology is being used in the United States right now with real patients to reach better outcomes – and stems from Israeli fighter pilot technology.

In 2010, Moty Avisar and Alon Geri had an idea. What if surgeons could train like fighter pilots previewing their surgical procedure, much like a fighter pilot can pre-fly their mission? Surgeons would be able to increase their situational awareness from every angle and every approach as they planned a procedure. What if surgical residents could also have a place to refine and practice their skills in this system of surgical simulators? And, what if these simulators could help patients be engaged in their care plan like never before?

Now, only a few years later, neurosurgeons at major medical centers and academic institutions across the U.S. and around the world are utilizing Surgical Theater’s transformative enterprise-wide virtual reality medical visualization platform and Precision VR™ long before a patient is prepped for surgery. This first-of-its-kind immersive environment allows for unparalleled patient education and engagement, while also delivering next-generation surgical planning and navigation capabilities.

From the sublime to the everyday, my personal favorite (because I am a chocaholic, plus they gave out samples!) was DouxMatok (https://www.douxmatok.com/), the smarter sugar.

DouxMatok is a leader in Targeted Delivery of Flavor Ingredients, such as sugar and salt, enabling healthier consumption of foods without compromising taste. . . . Our patented technology maximizes the efficiency of sugar or salt delivery to the taste buds and enhances the perception of sweetness or saltiness allowing substantial reductions of these ingredients.

With sugar intake acting as one of the major health hazards in our world, this technology can potentially change the profile, allowing us to enjoy the sweet things we love while substantially cutting the harmful effects of sugar intake.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the world silver medal high school robotics team from Megiddo Regional Council, in association with Technion and First Israel, who demonstrated their pollution cleaning robot model. We have a more personal stake in this one since our son-in-law has long been involved as a mentor in this program. It was greatly inspiring to see these young people present their innovation.

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These world-changing innovations would not be possible without a secure, safe, prosperous Israel. U.S. aid to Israel is not, and never has been, a one-way street. It should never be used as leverage for any politician or elected leader to pressure Israel on one policy or other. Indeed, a solid argument can be made that the total returns to the United States from Israeli innovation far exceeds the amount of aid given by the United States to Israel – that it is not “aid” at all but an investment whose ROI is as positive as any ever made.

About the Author
David H. Levitt practices intellectual property and commercial litigation law in Chicago, and is a pro-Israel activist.
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