“Everybody’s talking about “how can we do business with Israel,” and I say: “No, I’m not interested in business. Can we meet each other first? Can our kids meet your kids? Can we exchange CVs?” I think this is the ultimate goal of this thing. I don’t think it’s about business. Business will come… I need to meet your mother, you need to come meet my mother. Can we do THAT first?”
These are the words of Mohammed Al Abbar, Chairman of Emaar, at the Israel-Emirate Business Conference held in Dubai last week. If you are Emiratis—and this post is intended for you—you probably know what Emaar is. His argument is that Israelis are very eager to do business with the United Arab Emirates, while the other side is interested in developing personal ties first, and in doing it leisurely. Out of trust and acquaintance will grow wonderful things, including business opportunities.
There are two elements of Jewish and Israeli culture that are important for you to know, which will help you and us translate the immense mutual curiosity that arose with the opening of borders to meaningful ties between the peoples and citizens of the two countries.
First, in Judaism there is a fundamental notion called tikkun olam, or “repairing the world.” The term is included in a prayer that is recited by Jews three times a day. Judaism assumes that the world was created with flaws and man has a special role in identifying the flaws and correcting them. In the Start-up Nation, which was published in 2009, the author asked how such a small country in the Middle East has spawned more companies on NASDAQ than any other country, and how it has created such a powerful technological and economic engine. The answers were varied, including compulsory military service and the multiculturalism created by the mass immigration of millions of Jews from Russia and Morocco, Canada and India. But in my opinion, at the basis of the success of the start-up nation is the idea of repairing the world.
Israeli companies today produce water from the air in the arid deserts in Africa. They raise the disabled from wheelchairs using electric currents. I had the privilege of being the economic development advisor to Jerusalem Mayor, Nir Barkat, one of the founders of Check Point, an Israeli company that reinvented the protection of computers. When he served as mayor, he made Jerusalem one of the leading cities in the world in the field of medical technologies. In Israel, new and fascinating methods have been invented to integrate people with disabilities into the economy and to realize their potential. The Jewish people have been a production line of philosophers, scientists, and revolutionaries throughout history. The desire to repair the world is a dominant component in the Jewish DNA. Therefore, the sense that Israelis are compressing time and racing ahead, even before having built trust and friendship, is an expression of this cultural driving force: it is hard to wait patiently when there is so much to fix in the world, and every Israeli is sure he has excellent solutions for some of the challenges.
Just as the desert thirsts for rain, so do Israelis thirst for success, not only for material reasons, but above all, for the sense of satisfaction of the success of ideas born out of reality and of the innovative technologies they brought into the world. Don’t be alarmed by the fast pace and the pursuit of “talking business.” It doesn’t mean that Israelis are not open to personal connections and friendships that are unrelated to business. They simply see business as an important channel for personal fulfillment. Ask your Israeli interlocutor what change he wants to bring about in the world and what is the pain he seeks to alleviate, and you’ll discover the force that propels him forward.
Second, the UAE is a place where hardworking and talented individuals from all over the world meet and create a vibrant economy in the heart of the desert. Multiculturalism and diversity are present in every corner, and so are the many connections with the leading economies in the world. For the Emiratis, the agreements are a positive step that has opened additional fascinating options; for Israelis, the agreement is a real turning point.
For decades, it was impossible to board a plane in Tel Aviv and fly east over the Arabian deserts. Doing business with the Arab world, which is right at our doorstep, was complex and sometimes impossible. With the opening of the skies, masses of Israelis stormed Dubai, with a great deal of curiosity and a desire to get to know and learn the local culture. One of the intriguing promises that the UAE can offer Israelis is the opportunity to find partners, markets, and friends in new places and in the midst of new cultures. This is naturally true of new opportunities in the Arab world, but it is also more generally true of Asian markets that can be reached through the special meeting arena created in Dubai. Open to Israelis your home, as a meeting place that allows new opportunities to develop and a new network of contacts to form in the Arab world and in Asian countries. For Israelis, this is a promise of uncommon importance.
In their rush, Israelis often skip important steps in building personal friendships and mutual trust. But it’s only because they have a sense that time is pressing and the new opportunities that have opened up in the East are too fabulous to miss. My friends, I hope you will always remember our common ancestor, Abraham, who planted a tamarix tree in the heart of the arid desert. The tamarix has become a symbol of life, prosperity, and shade in the heart of a difficult environment. The Abrahamic agreements, whose roots have been quietly growing in the earth, can provide the shade under which we will create wonderful things together.