It’s mid-morning in a historic Dutch hospital in the small town of Delft, and
seven Israeli journalists are watching a presentation about bedpans.
just any bedpans, organic plastic Olla bedpans.
They will be used once
and sent to a washing machine-sized shredder (“Tonto”) where they will be
pulverized and sent along with the rest of the hospital’s medical waste and
waste water to a purification system and converted into biogas.
That’s understandable, but the presentation of the Pharmafilter hospital waste
system was in keeping with the theme of a four-day press trip to the Netherlands
late last month. The Dutch government took a group of Israeli journalists on a
battery of visits to Dutch innovators, scientists, architecture students,
microalgae cultivators, port workers and gas industry executives, ahead of a
threeday Dutch gas industry mission to Israel this week.
The theme of the
tour appeared to be that the Netherlands is a small, densely packed country,
with an outsized impact on the world and an eye toward innovation and
Sound familiar? The Dutch government press representative on
the trip (“your unquotable source of information,” as he called himself) said
that in recent months he had hosted press trips from countries as far and wide
as Vietnam and Argentina. In terminology that would be familiar to that of the
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, it seems the Netherlands is
trying to “re-brand” itself as a country of hi-tech innovation and renewable
energy, and not just tulips and windmills (or fogged-out coffeehouses and
half-naked women in Amsterdam canal windows, as it were).
The tour had
many of the hallmarks of the organized Israeli press trip to Europe: a visit to
a local Jewish historical site (in this case Amsterdam’s quite impressive
17th-century Portuguese Synagogue) and back-to-back meetings with government
officials and other “machers who should be met,” most of whom without fail will
say, “Looks like you brought the weather with you from Israel” if it happens to
be sunny outside.
Along the way, the members of the press delegation will
comment nonstop about how almost every aspect of the host country is superior to
Israel, in terms of urban planning, traffic etiquette, look and dress of the
locals and, of course, the prices in supermarkets and bars. By the time they
leave, each visiting journalist will risk exceeding his or her baggage limit due
to the critical mass of press pamphlets and informational booklets to be
discarded upon arrival in Israel.
The Dutch hosts were very professional,
well-organized and seemed genuinely proud of the steps that the government and
local companies are taking to develop renewable energy and more advanced methods
In contrast to Israelis, the Dutch presenters did not
appear to be too big on improvisation or to possess much Israeli chutzpah, and
one could be forgiven for thinking that an unofficial motto of the Netherlands
is “please wait until I finish my presentation and I will answer your
Bert van der Heide and Soelimen Lafkiri represent Kurtz
Marketing & Management, a business development company organizing the Dutch
gas trade delegation to Israel this week.
When asked what advice the
Netherlands can offer Israel in regard to how to handle its recent offshore gas
discoveries, van der Heide said that the country could use its five decades of
experience with natural gas exploration, drilling and export as a way to advise
“One of the things that we are trying to achieve with the gas
mission is to help Israel build its capacity with handling these discoveries.
It’s a new field in Israel and there’s a lot of aspects in health, safety and
environmental that come to mind.”
Lafkiri added: “The fact is that the
Netherlands has gone through developments that Israel still has to go
Van der Heide said Israel will have to balance the interests of
private industry, which will seek to maximize profits, with the interests of the
state and the public, which can reap great rewards from the gas finds, but also
face potential risks.
Lafkiri suggested that Israel could avoid the
perils of the “Dutch disease” by investing gas revenue in paying off state debts
and investing in long-term infrastructures.
As for what the Netherlands
can learn from Israel, it was clear in speaking to van der Heide and Lafkiri
that like many others, the Dutch have been struck by Israel’s image as the
“I think that the entrepreneurial spirit which exists
in Israel is something that we could definitely learn or should try to learn.
When you talk to an Israeli on the streets, there’s a good chance he would say
he has a great idea and that he wants to start developing this hi-tech idea and
selling it around the world, I think there is this positive attitude and
mentality of risk taking and bringing your ideas to market.
There is a
certain risk aversion not only in the Netherlands but generally in Europe, where
people look to work for a corporate entity instead of taking risks and having
your own company,” van der Heide said.
He added that “in the Netherlands
there is a lot of emphasis in politics and within the public debate on
strengthening innovation and stimulating entrepreneurship, and this is something
where we could use a little bit of the Israeli spirit and its success as a
Lafkiri drew a comparison between the history of the
Netherlands and that of Israel, saying “we always tend to say here, we have
struggled against the environment, against the rising water, out of which the
Netherlands has developed a very strong infrastructure and maritime sector –
sometimes people say it’s comparable to how a small country like Israel has, by
dealing with the challenges it faces, developed a successful technology based
In a small bar in downtown Rotterdam, Karin Weustink – deputy
director of the economy department of the Economic Affairs, Agriculture and
Innovation Ministry – spoke about Dutch efforts to create a “Bio-based economy”
in a world where fossil fuels are finite. Weustink said the Netherlands is
investing 200 million euros in developing the field of biofuels, with the
public, NGOs and private industry contributing to the efforts as
When asked if the government can be the vanguard of such a push for
alternative fuels, Weustink said that while it can invest money and give a spark
to such efforts, “the revolution has to come from the people.”
Heijdra, the communications director for the ministry, said Israel can learn
from the Dutch agro-sector’s productive use of available land and water in a
small, densely populated Northern European country and that the Netherlands “can
definitely learn from Israel, for example in biotechnology, and in water and
Heijdra spoke about the prominence of green parties
and green politics in the Netherlands, something that does not typify the
Israeli political scene.
Nonetheless, she added that the government has
taken steps to try to keep the Dutch public from taking the role of the
agro-sector (10 percent of the national economy) for granted, and to stress to
the public the importance of increasing the level of innovation and competition
in the Netherlands.
The next day included a visit to the Rotterdam Port
(the largest in Europe and 10th-largest on Earth), a 40-km.
ports, factories, refineries and power plants, providing employment for 90,000
people. The port presents an example of the old Dutch shipping heritage and the
country’s modern-day nod toward innovation.
Later that day the press trip
made its way to the small college town of Wageningen, home to some 40,000
residents and Wageningen University and Research Center, which focuses on life
sciences. A charming small town of endless greenery and Dutch farm houses, it
also boasts a completely unpronounceable name, at least for the members of the
Israeli press delegation who came up with nearly a dozen different ways to
garble the name of the village.
Outside Wageningen lies a microalgae
cultivation center, devoted to collecting micro-algae for the production of bulk
commodities and biofuel.
During a presentation titled “Micro-algae: The
Green Gold of the Future?” scientists spoke about how micro-algae can play an
important role in developing a more sustainable society and help utilize land
where algae grows, land that is typically not suitable for
Hours later, the delegation was flying over Northern Europe
toward Israel. Both Israel and the Netherlands have had great success forcing
the will of man upon nature, the Dutch with their timeless struggle against the
sea, and Israelis in turning a poor patch of the eastern Mediterranean into a
net food exporter, while making portions of the desert bloom.
turns out, are also eager for the world to hear what they have to offer,
presumably to make the world a better place."The reporter visited the Netherlands as a guest of the Dutch government"