Michal Cotler-Wunsh

The Start-up nation: Blessing or curse

Books, university courses and entire conferences have been devoted to unraveling the wondrous and miraculous reality of the Start-Up Nation in a land so fraught with struggle by a people that only 70 years ago survived the paramount example of humanity’s inhumanity.

The vibrant and stimulating eco-system that has been referred to as the ‘Silicon Wadi’ (Valley) is a source of pride to many, individually nationally and globally. It is illustrated in multiple ways including an uncanny ability to identify needs; a relentless aptitude to translate ideas into action; a tenacious nature that does not take no for an answer; an ability to rise from failure strengthened and only more determined; a hunger and thirst for success that can often be measured within relatively short time frames. It benefits from the tireless ability to run sprints and to devise relatively short term plans in short time periods towards huge successes. Often, the ideas developed and created aim to be purchased by external forces when the time comes or need arises for long term planning. A quick look at the NASDAQ indicates that this goal is met at disproportionate success.

In very broad terms, whether a result of the survivor mentality in historical, geographic or cultural perspectives, the psychology of the Start-Up Nation seems to equip us with the necessary state of mind and heart for incredibly successful short term planning that proves itself effective in the fast paced, global, digital, medical, agricultural realities of our world.

And yet, there are moments in which one wonders if the very capabilities that have proven so very effective in the context of the countless successes of the Start-Up Nation may, in other contexts, be a curse.

Last week the prestigious Herzliya Conference took place at IDC Herzliya. Alongside many other relevant and timely issues, there was a roundtable discussion regarding the challenges of BDS. The discussion included several panelists who each introduced different angles and insights. Among others, participants were privileged to hear the perspective of Rabbi Lord Sacks.

The conversation that ensued in print is important on many levels, assuming that those commenting were present or read the follow up summary written by Rabbi Lord Sacks himself prior to engaging in important discussion.

In opening the roundtable to multiple voices, the hope was to offer deeper understanding and to generate serious debate of the topic. Among other things, it served as yet another reminder of the imperative that we cease to talk to likeminded individuals or groups and begin to hear varying perspectives, even at the cost of disagreement.

What is critical, however, is to account for the different audiences that each speaker is talking to, and for the distance that each has from the matter at hand, shaping their understanding and adding additional dimensions. Whereas we must stand unified in our commitment to educate as to the relevant information, we must allow for multiple voices to address each audience in a way that they will hear, and offer the particular view from each varying angle. Any effort to send a uniform message would limit the scope, breadth and depth of the message and minimize the nature of the challenge that we are up against.

BDS is a manifestation of a sophisticated, well-funded and well-oiled infrastructure launched officially 14 years ago in Durban. There are multiple ways of tackling the disingenuous, misinformed slander campaign that has ensued. To increase the likelihood of success, each and every individual, organization and country has the power and responsibility to expose the lies to their relevant circles in the appropriate language and terms of reference. To increase the prospect of triumph, each and every individual, organization and country has the ability to influence their immediate and distant surroundings. If we are to make any difference at all, we must launch an inter-disciplinary, multi-national, inter-racial, multicultural collaborative effort in which the whole MUST be greater than the sum of its parts.

Counter terrorist experts at the Herzliya Conference described frightening and humbling 100 year plans that guide the worlds’ terrorist organizations.  Such long term planning is the polar opposite of the start-up mentality which seeks to create and exit ASAP only to move on to the next creation. Such long term planning and execution is precisely what is required if we are to succeed in addressing the challenges ahead.

For thousands of years the Jewish people, no matter where, when and how dire the conditions, had the long term, hundred or thousand year plan of Jerusalem. It was the hope, the prayer and the exit strategy all rolled into one. Only a week after the decision of the US Supreme Court regarding the possibility of listing Israel as the country of its’ Jerusalem born citizens, it seems that we cannot possibly fight 100 year plans with quick-fix exit strategies. We must recalibrate and devise the long term plan that will carry us through the storms ahead.

History has taught that when one does not take a stand, one may discover themselves on the side of evil. This is true in the private and public realms. However, there are multiple ways of standing up, there are various messengers that can deliver the message, there are multiple voices that can benefit the discussion and there are countless vehicles to address different audiences.  At a time that the UN regularly singles out Israel out of lists of countries that make mockery of Human Rights, utilizing the very same language of rights to delegitimize the State of Israel, we cannot possibly limit ourselves to one way, one voice or one medium.

We simply cannot afford to talk amongst ourselves, criticizing and questioning the message, manner or audience. We simply cannot afford the luxury of engaging in back and forth rhetoric. There is enough work for everyone: musician and doctor; spiritual leader and student. We must give one another the benefit of the doubt that from the place we each stand, taking into account the audience of listeners that we each have, knowing the relevant cultural, linguistic, geographical challenges, we are all working together to address the challenges of 100 year plans rather than calculating the nearest exit strategy.

We are fortunate to have many incredible thinkers and doers of international acclaim and caliber as willing and available resources to devise the vision, mission and strategic plan for the challenging task at hand. We would be remiss to advance at individual or local efforts and not identify the historic opportunity and necessity to bring together the varying understandings, perspectives, experiences and insights, transcending geography, language, culture, ethnic background and religion. Rabbi Lord Sacks is precisely an example of one such resource. His universal and relevant messages transcend difference and allow his message to be utilized and extend our reach beyond immediate circles. His ability to address vast audiences who are able to hear his universally relevant messages with an open mind and heart should not be minimized. It is not a lone voice and there are many other important ones, but it is most certainly an important part of the mosaic of voices that must be sounded.

Finally, at the end of his presentation Rabbi Sacks warned of the dangers of fulfilling the prophecy of ‘a nation that dwells alone’. We are not alone. We must trust one another to reach out to all those that stand united with us and widen the discourse if we are to address the challenges ahead. It is a call for action to each and every individual to reach out to every relevant individual in their personal and professional surroundings and provide them with a greater understanding of the relevance of this challenge to everyone, not Israel and not Jews in particular. There are no quick fixes to all that currently ails our planet. It is very possible that it is only the relevance and universality of our messages that will, in the long run, change the course that the world seems to be on.

About the Author
The writer is a lawyer, research fellow, and policy and strategy advisor. She served as an MK in Israel’s 23rd Knesset, co-founding the International Bi-Partisan Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.