Israel Can Handle Iran – & Also Help Repair the World

"Maala" CEO addresses 2024 conference (Sharone Eliasi)

What a sight to see: with threats from the Islamic Republic in the air, about 400 Israelis recently converged on the annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Conference of the non-profit “Maala,” listening attentively to Hebrew discussions focusing on a wide range of issues under the umbrella of “CSR against the backdrop of war.” In between, we hobnobbed in the corridors and courtyard of the event’s venue: Jerusalem’s spiffy new National Library of Israel (we also got a tour; definitely worth a visit).

Those uninitiated in the ways of our country can be forgiven for asking the inevitable questions: Advancing social and corporate responsibility? Promoting inclusion in the work place? Don’t Israelis have anything better to do in the midst of war?

Fair enough, but these questions miss the bigger picture: we Israelis are obsessed with making our country better and helping to repair the world, even when it may seem that the situation’s never been worse. We also like to air our opinions to as many listeners as possible. These two facts taken together make the autumn and spring convention seasons an absolute must, even when Israel is busy defending its citizens against belligerence from the Islamic Republic and its terror proxies.

War in the fall? Just a wrinkle. Autumn gatherings simply moved to the early spring, like Ben-Gurion University’s recent climate conference (apropos: earlier this month Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed the first reading of a new climate bill). The changes don’t seem to have harmed the post-Passover events; for example, the Israel Democracy Institute’s major conference on economy and society is already scheduled for late May.

These conferences are the embodiment of how Israel navigates its socio-economic challenges: through the public-private partnership (PPP). The “Maala” event program, for example, was chock full of panelists from government, the private sector and civil society.

One session that particularly grabbed my attention in this context dealt with the nexus between climate change and war. Speaking alongside government ministry and public corporation officials (including the Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems), remarks by the Defense Ministry representative were especially telling in this respect: “Climate [change] isn’t going to wait – not even for the Hamas” (nor for the Islamic Republic, I would add).

Soon after the October 7th attack against Israel, he said, the defense establishment resumed its work to adapt to climate change’s long-term effect on the performance of the army and the safety of its ranks. In his view, climate change is a strategic threat that will impact everything: personnel, infrastructure, fighting, ammunition standards and more.

Heavy stuff.

Threats from the Islamic Republic, which culminated in its direct attack against us, grew stronger during the week following the “Maala” conference. That didn’t stop organizers of the “Tel Aviv Sparks Innovation Summit” from holding their own annual gathering, a different animal than the “Maala” event with the same intent: moving forward and moving on. Unlike the Jerusalem event, this one took place in English with the presence of guests from abroad.

While focused primarily on innovation in its myriad aspects, sustainability benchmarks were definitely accentuated at the Tel Aviv confab. The most obvious example of this: a session entitled “Tech Inclusion Revolution: Embracing the Power of Diversity.” Panelists ranged from a Christian Arab who heads an Israel firm dealing with military and civilian aircraft to the director of an entrepreneurship center that focuses on observant Jewish participants.

Another noteworthy session, “Rising Tech: Illuminating Innovation in East Jerusalem,” highlighted growing investment by officialdom, the private sector and civil society to advance tech activity among the capital’s Arab residents. Hats off to conference organizers for including the subject; our current reality shouldn’t keep this positive development from view.

The conferences I’ve mentioned here are a taste of what regularly goes on in Israel; these gatherings are conducted by a wide array of bodies ranging from Israel’s financial media to social impact organizations to government bodies (my office, the Foreign Ministry, recently held its second climate-related event within a month). Inevitably, in the past few months they’ve dwelled on their particular area of focus while taking the war’s reality very much into account.

All this activity is welcome and necessary. It’s a pity, of course, that so much of it is taking place almost exclusively in Hebrew. Not too long ago, such Israeli conferences were bustling with participants from abroad.

I myself can recall helping arrange, as head of Israel’s diplomatic mission in Boston, the December 2016 appearance of the then-governor of Massachusetts at an Israeli financial newspaper’s annual business event. Continuing this practice ever since, just last year I took a group of inclusion and empowerment content creators from the US to a gender equality session at that same Tel Aviv innovation summit mentioned above.

We Israelis speak fluently about repairing the world and back that talk with action; it’s in our DNA. Nothing done by the Islamic Republic and its terror proxies, bent on destruction, can change that.

About the Author
A 35-year Israeli diplomacy veteran, Ambassador Yehuda Yaakov has directed the Foreign Ministry's Social Impact Policy unit since launching it in 2019; previously, he served as Consul General in Boston after receiving the Director General's Award as part of the "Iran Team." Yaakov has also served as board member of an NGO promoting Israeli-Ethiopian excellence. Raised in a NYC housing project, he began his career reporting about social justice issues. Active on LinkedIn and "X" (@YehudaYa).
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