Story of Israeli innovation – from the Exodus to Brexit

As we approach Pesach, it is one of those splendid coincidences that Britain has invoked Article 50 and begun the process of leaving the European Union. 

Some 2,000 years ago, Moses did the same, leading the children of Israel out of Egypt after long harrowing negotiations with Pharaoh, conjuring up all manner of perils with the accompanying plea after each of ‘let my people go’.

Moses was adamant that it was time to free the Israelites from a brutal dictator who had made their life miserable and for the Jewish people to regain sovereignty in the land of Canaan.

Nevertheless, despite the bitterness of their lives in Egypt, many of the Israelites were ancient ‘remoaners’, distrustful of the ‘promised land’ pledged by Moses, Aaron and the Almighty.

Brussels and the European Union are, of course, not ancient Egypt. Britain may have handed over large chunks of sovereignty to
Brussels, but its people are not being subjugated by a vengeful despot, more a bibulous Luxemburger in the shape of Jean-Claude Juncker.

Nevertheless, true believers in Brexit see a clean break with the EU as a chance to re-establish Britain as an independent trading nation able to determine its own destiny.

It has taken modern Israel nearly 70 years to establish itself as a great free commercial nation, able to use its brainpower and scientific prowess to take on the world, but it does it with aplomb. It has left the Egyptians and the Nile from which it escaped far behind in economic development and thrown off the shackles that a variety of civilisations sought to impose, from the Romans and Greeks to the Ottomans and the British.

The way in which Israel is increasingly perceived in the business world, among governments and in the media, is changing.

At a recent private dinner with the senior executives of one of Britain’s top pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca, I found it very striking when the head of research and development referred to Israel as being up there with the best alongside the US and Britain when it comes to medical breakthroughs. Once best known for Jaffa oranges, Israel has developed a different identity.

Israel may have no scale motor manufacturing, but that has not prevented it from being a powerhouse in the arena of car technology. Amnon Shashua, founder of Mobileye, the pioneer of autonomous driving, joined the tech elite in March when he sold his firm to Intel for a remarkable $15.3bn (£12.5bn).

Aside from being a record-selling takeover for an Israeli company, it is estimated that the Israeli government’s tax share will be $3.9bn. This would be enough to fund a generous tax cut for every Israeli citizen. Intel is buying its way into one of the fastest-growing areas of consumer technology with the traditional motor manufacturers in battle with newcomers such as Tesla and Alphabet (part of Google) for hegemony in self-driving cars.

Typical of Israeli ingenuity is the female tech entrepreneur Gal Aharon, who is bringing her new disruptive technology for drivers to Britain with the backing of venture capital group OurCrowd. Aharon’s device and app, Engie, aims to end the angst we all have over car repairs. The small box attached to the underside of the dashboard is in effect a ‘fitbit’ for motors telling drivers what needs fixing. But it goes one step further connecting the owner to the best mechanics at the best price in the most suitable location.

Engiehas already secured $3.5m in funding and has 100,000 customers in Israel and now aims to break the mould in Brexit Britain.

It’s amazing what escaping from the yoke of the past can achieve.

About the Author
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's City Editor
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