Economy Minister Eli Cohen. .
(photo credit: MNC CONFERENCE)
“Everyone asks, why are Israelis succeeding so much at being entrepreneurs?” Economy Minister Eli Cohen said on Wednesday. “The reason is that young Israelis never take no as an answer. All the time, they seek to achieve and find a solution.”
Cohen was speaking to hundreds of business executives visiting from abroad, at the annual MNC “Multinational Corporation” conference in Tel Aviv. He advertised Israeli innovation and burgeoning hi-tech economy to the corporate audience.
The minister discussed how Israel stood at the cutting edge of medical devices, cybersecurity, agricultural technology and other digital start-ups.
While the Jewish state has been very successful in the hi-tech industry – with more Israeli companies listed on New York’s NASDAQ technology stock exchange than from any other country outside the United States, save China – underlying the speech was the simmering geopolitical conflict in the Middle East.
“You need to remember that Israel is an island, not a geographical island but that the connection between our neighbors isn’t too strong,” Cohen said in a post-speech interview with The Jerusalem Post. “Therefore, we are trying to reduce regulation to bring more companies to Israel.”
The lack of trading ties with cold peace neighbors such as Egypt and Jordan – with which Israel has diplomatic relations – is one reason that consumer imports can be expensive, since they have to be shipped in and not transported over land, Cohen said. Many Israelis suffering from the high cost of living, as housing and vehicle costs are well above the average for developed nations.
Despite the regional coolness, Israel’s economic and diplomatic relations are booming. In the past three months, Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi visited the country, as did US President Donald Trump. And Cohen partook in a state visit to China with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel has been successful not because it’s definitively defeated the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Cohen added, but because the global economy has fundamentally changed.
“Two decades ago, the world was mainly relying on oil and gas,” Cohen said, referring to how the power held by Arab oil producers in the Persian Gulf impacted diplomatic relations with Israel. “For many companies who used to work in Israel, they were exposed to an Arab boycott.
“Today, it is no longer relevant.
Today, the most relevant companies aren’t BP or Exxon Mobil but it’s mainly Google, Facebook and Amazon.
And in the new technological world, Israel is a key player... we are no longer a burden on others but an asset,” he said.
The government is fighting BDS, Cohen said, by cutting red tape for Israeli companies in exporting products and allowing imports. For far-left activists who back the boycott movement, the economy minister offered some advice.
“If they want to boycott Israel, let them not use Waze, which is an Israeli [driving] application. Don’t use Discount Key, which is an Israeli entrepreneur [credit card]. Don’t use Israeli medical devices if you’re feeling sick.”
The Economy Ministry helped sponsor the MNC conference, titled “Invest in Israel.”
According to the government statistics, more than 300 multinational companies have opened up shop here, with many establishing research and development centers. More retailers are moving here, with Cohen mentioning how French sporting goods store Decathlon recently opened its first Israel outlet in Rishon Lezion, where excited shoppers queued for hours outside in the heat.
When it comes to facilitating Israel’s hi-tech culture, Cohen said that the government was allocating more grants to fledgling new start-ups, along with cutting the corporate tax rate last year to 25%. The Economy Ministry is pushing these initiatives because these companies offer “social utility.”
“Israel is the R&D center of the world and we believe that people will live much longer because of the many inventions that come here from Israel,” he said.