Stellar Startups: The merits of hi-tech hasbara

Among many Israelis, especially in the media, it’s just as fashionable to pan Israel’s efforts to tell its story.

By DAVID SHAMAH
March 28, 2011 21:28
4 minute read.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

Danny Ayalon 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Israel’s hi-tech prowess is acknowledged the world over – and extolled by Israelis, who are proud of their nation’s accomplishments. But among many Israelis, especially in the media, it’s just as fashionable to pan Israel’s efforts to tell its story.

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When it comes to hasbara, it seems that Israel can do no right, many in the local media believe. Of course, that could be because those doing the panning don’t believe in what their country is doing. But you can see the same sentiments even among those who believe that Israel does have a legitimate story to tell.

Israel isn’t only about “the conflict”; there are lots of sides to Israel’s story – like those cows. And that’s why Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon several weeks ago announced a new program, whereby Israeli hi-tech folk will help spread Israel’s point of view on a variety of issues.

Speaking at a hi-tech conference sponsored by the Luzzato Group several weeks ago, Ayalon urged hi-tech workers who travel abroad to get involved with hasbara. Those who volunteer, he said, would be given the appropriate information on “hot-button” issues, talking points, giving interviews in the media and how to help improve Israel’s image.

Hi-tech people are “high-quality individuals who can be an intellectual resource who are found at the main crossroads of society,” Ayalon said, and they could be an excellent hasbara resource for Israel.

Whether it’s a valid idea, it’s no mystery where the cynicism displayed by the Israeli media to ideas like Ayalon’s (this certainly isn’t the first time such a campaign has been tried) comes from.

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As a top Foreign Ministry official, one assumes that Ayalon is referring to political hasbara, and considering how there are as many political points of view as there are Israelis, it’s hard to imaging corralling too many hi-tech people into a program like this.

But like I said, Israel’s story – and the hasbara it could generate – is more than just the day-to-day politics we usually think of, and hi-tech could play a big role in improving Israel’s reputation.

Here’s an example: How about a technology that allows you to recharge batteries for devices – using solar power? Used batteries are among the most difficult items to dispose of, and when they are disposed of improperly, they can wreak havoc on the environment. Being able to recharge batteries using solar energy would be a great boon to the environment – as well as to consumers who are looking to save money.

Israel’s Sol-chip is developing just such a technology; would that make a great piece of hasbara.

Or how about a technology that ensures that blood transfusions are done in a safe, efficient manner, greatly reducing the possibility of human error? The system identifies and verifies the patient, infusion, dose and flow rate, and it mechanically prevents infusion and transfusion errors when drugs and patients are mismatched, increasing patient safety – and helping reduce what many doctors believe to be a not uncommon and often fatal problem. Wouldn’t that make Israel “look good,” as a country where technology is being developed to help save lives?

Israel’s ProIV is responsible for developing that technology.

It’s the work done by these kinds of startups that has already (think ICQ, Checkpoint, etc.) put Israel on the map and will continue to do so. The work being done by startups like these should be at the heart of Israel’s hasbara efforts.

Those last two companies, by the way, are participating in the “road show” I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Sponsored by Israel’s Trendlines Group (www.trendlines.com), the project features efforts by 13 Israeli startups to raise money from investors in four cities in the US to advance their technology. The trip, which takes place this week (and which I am accompanying), has generated a great deal of interest among angels and venture-capital investors in the four cities where events will take place: New York, Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In New York on Monday, for example, dozens of the metropolitan area’s top investors came out to observe the presentations by the startups, many of them seeking to invest in technologies that will make the world a little healthier and happier.

That Israeli companies are at the forefront of developing these technologies is an important talking point – and that’s the connection between hasbara and hi-tech.

Ayalon was right when he said Israel should deputize hi-tech folk to tell Israel’s story. But the people he should be deputizing are the ones who can fill a New York office with 125 movers and shakers, who are there because they know just how many millions these technologies will benefit.

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