Josh Brown
Bringing New Zealand and Israel closer together through business and innovation.

A new vision of the NZ Israel bilateral relationship

New Zealand and Israel flag together realtions textile cloth fabric texture
New Zealand and Israel flag together realtions textile cloth fabric texture

I gave the speech below at the New Zealand Israel Innovation Hub annual luncheon on the 7th of September. The luncheon in Auckland, was attended by politicians, business leaders and the country’s top innovators and is a key event on the organisation’s calendar. 

Kia ora Tatou. I’m Josh Brown, Executive Director and founder of the New Zealand Israel Innovation Hub. Thank you all for coming today.

I’ve just completed my second tour of New Zealand’s regional tech ecosystems. I started in Auckland and then made my way to Wellington, Tauranga, Hamilton, Hawera, Christchurch and nown I’m back where I started.  I’m wanted to understand the needs and challenges of budding entrepreneurs around the country and to work out how I can best make an impact.

Last year, I was in Israel, and I also did quite a bit of travelling there. While I lived in Tel Aviv, I spent time in Haifa, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva. I joined several delegations and attended every conference and seminar I could possibly afford. I must have met with hundreds of entrepreneurs, experts, scientists, Government officials and tech ecosystem connectors. I blew a small fortune on shouting coffees, lunches, and dinners. By the way, Tel Aviv is indeed the most expensive city in the world.

So, because you are hearing me or meeting me for the first time, and it may be the first time you’ve heard of ‘the Hub’, I think it’s important you understand my motivations. Why am I doing this? Why all the road trips? It’s because I’m desperate to link the two countries through trade and innovation, as I think it’s in the best interests of both countries.

Now, I wasn’t born here. I don’t even have a tech background. I’m an economist by trade. Before launching the Hub, I was a senior analyst at the Treasury for 3 years.

But I love New Zealand. It’s my home. It’s where got married. It’s where I’ve bought my house. It’s where, after 15 years of being a bit of a country-hopping nomad, it’s where I finally found my small little corner of the world. Now, it’s true that I’m not always residing in New Zealand, and forces beyond my control pull me away. But I am a citizen by choice, and I proudly wave the New Zealand flag wherever I may go in the world. I am indeed a fan of the All Blacks. For me, New Zealand, is my home, and it will always remain my home.

But it’s also true that I consider Israel to be my historical, spiritual, and cultural homeland.  I’m Jewish and I have deep and strong links to the land. It’s where much of my family live. It’s where I spent much of my 20s – to be honest, it’s where I did most of my partying. I was even drafted into the army – as a plumber.  It’s where I can freely express my identity, and it’s where I am the ‘tangata whenua’ (native to the land).

So, you can imagine the hurt I felt, while working at the Treasury, while waiting around to meet with a senior member of its leadership, I saw a string of flags. Every country’s flag was attached to that string. China, Vietnam, Germany, Russia, South Africa. Every single country, except one. Israel. Actually, it used there. Somebody had seemingly reached up there with a pair of scissors and had cut down that flag.  Now, to be clear, we aren’t talking about just any office here. This is in one of the key engine rooms of the New Zealand Government – where many of the country’s most important decisions are made.

This mental image is sort of represents the relationship New Zealand has with Israel, and is consistent with my experience of people eager to escape when I mention the ‘I’ word.  It’s dysfunctional, it’s unfair, and let’s face it, it’s sort of weird. Now look, I’m aware of the bilateral history, of the passports scandal and Israel is not a perfect country. Far from it, Israel, 75 years after its creation, has been continuously in a state of conflict and that’s warped the moral fabric of this western society. It can rightly be accused of treating the Palestinians pretty poorly, and Israel seems to be morphing into a Middle Eastern version of Hungary with its reforms to remove judicial independence. But if there is a silver lining to the massive protests going on now in its 36th week, it’s clear that there are many there who want democracy, and who want the country to be known as the world’s top emerging tech power, not as a country of religious dogma, conflict, and tension.  It’s clear we can’t continue to lump all Israelis together as one monolithic population that shares none of our values.

And this is what I’m on about. I’m working for a better relationship with this side to the country, with its entrepreneurs, its academics, with its R&D experts and scientists, with its pro-democracy activists and intelligentsia.  I believe these people, deserve a decent relationship with New Zealand, but I also believe it’s in our best interests as well.

Firstly, I believe that Israel holds many of the keys to secure New Zealand’s future prosperity.  Israel is widely recognized as a global hub for technological innovation and start-up ventures. With Israel’s transition from an agricultural economy to the ‘Startup Nation’ in the early 2000s, New Zealand has much to learn and can access and adapt models of commercialization and innovation that will enable us to become “that upstart nation of the South Pacific”.

Secondly, I believe that partnering with Israel in areas such as food-tech, climate-tech, agritech and health tech will enable New Zealand’s established industries to access the most cutting-edge tech in the world today. After all, Israel spends more on R&D as a percentage of GDP than any other country and New Zealand, in comparison, spends one quarter of that.  New Zealand can easily partner with Israelis to develop all sorts of solutions that reduce costs, address manpower shortages, and improve productivity, across the board.

Partnership with Israel is not just about benefitting our traditional industries. Exciting opportunities also exist for New Zealand’s academic communities, entrepreneurs, and startups. Improved tech ecosystem ties will open new sources of investment, access to world-class pools of talent, and most importantly, it will enable Kiwis to leverage Israel’s strong relationships with larger markets. Remember, everything created in Israel, is not created with domestic customers in mind, everything coming out of Israel is made for the USA, Germany, France, Australia and so on.

And how advanced is Israel? Well, according to Startup Blink, it’s the world’s third top tech power, while according to Startup Genome, Tel Aviv is the world’s fifth-strongest tech ecosystem. It’s so good that all the world’s top tech companies, meta, apple, google, intel, Nvidia and Microsoft, all have large R&D centres there.

NZ currently has no presence in Israel, but clearly, if NZ wants a tech-based economy, there should be some connection. And so, I launched the New Zealand Israel Innovation Hub to address this, not just to facilitate a trust-building platform by which kiwis and Israelis can have a pragmatic and constructive relationship, but also to get behind New Zealand’s own tech transformation.

The Hub now has more than 40 volunteers, and though we’ve only been around for a short time, we’re already facilitating partnerships and opening up the Israeli tech ecosystem to New Zealand and getting the word out. For example, just last month, we helped to facilitate a space tech partnership between New Zealand’s Argo Navis and Israel’s Tehiru space. We continue to be highly active. One key initiative is the upcoming delegation to Israel via the UAE that will be happening in November. This is in partnership with the Auckland Business Chamber, the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce, and the New Zealand Middle East Business Council.

Our strategic objectives include a trade office or NZ embassy in Israel, an investment treaty, and tax treaty, a Free Trade Agreement, a quadruple increase in trade over the next 10 years, and an exchange program between Israel and NZ’s academic institutions.

While I understand that many of these goals sound ambitious, they’re not just pipe dreams. They’re the outcomes of long nights of strategic thinking, and an understanding of the depth of potential in both countries. These objectives are steps towards creating a bridge that can harness the intellectual prowess, technological advancements, and entrepreneurial spirit of both nations.

But forging this bond is not just about tech and trade; it’s about shared learning, about collaboration, and about fostering understanding in a world that often seems divided. Today, more than ever, we need alliances that look beyond borders, beyond differences, and focus on shared human experiences and goals. Our venture is as much about diplomacy as it is about innovation.

The Hub’s journey so far has been incredible, and we’ve only just begun. I am excited about the future and the potential it holds. But as with any great venture, the power lies in collaboration. I invite each one of you here to join us, support our endeavours, and be a part of this revolutionary journey.

Before I conclude, I want to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the supporters and believers of our vision. It’s not about me or any single individual; it’s about us as a collective. Together, we can bring about significant change.

Thank you for joining us today and for believing in the power of partnerships and the potential of collaboration. Here’s to a brighter, more connected future!

Kia ora, and Shalom!

About the Author
While originally from Australia, Josh Brown now splits his life between New Zealand and Israel. As an entrepreneur and former public servant, Josh has come to understand the positive by-products of trade relationships, and now passionately works to bring countries together through business and technology as an innovation ambassador.
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