Team Israel Start-Up Nation paves a path to peace

Sylvan Adams promotes the significance of people-to-people contact.

Team Israel Start-up Nation at the 2020 Tour de France.  (photo credit: NOA ARNON)
Team Israel Start-up Nation at the 2020 Tour de France.
(photo credit: NOA ARNON)
‘Team Israel Start-Up Nation. Have you ever heard of a better name for an Israeli sports team?” marvels Sylvan Adams.
The co-owner of the Israeli cycling team that competed in the Tour de France last month and Israel’s “self-appointed ambassador-at-large,” Adams is delighted with the positive exposure received by Israel during the three-week race that concluded on September 20.
The Tour de France is the third-largest sporting event in the world, and attracted a worldwide television audience of 3.5 billion viewers and hundreds of thousands of spectators throughout France.
“I rode my bike on the racecourse just ahead of the race every day,” recalls Adams. “When we rode by, the fans saw our blue and white uniforms, with ‘Israel’ emblazoned on the front of the jerseys. They would shout ‘Yisrael, Yisrael – Allez! Allez! [Go Israel! Go Israel!]. They were filled with so much enthusiasm and love for us. It exceeded my expectations.”
Adams, himself a former Canadian and world champion cyclist at the master’s level, says that “Israel Start-Up Nation defines us, and every time the TV announcers talk about us – and they talked about us constantly at our inaugural tour, we really were the darlings of the Tour de France this year – they keep reinforcing that wonderful name and special quality that we exhibit. This is the idea behind it – to represent Israel and to show our true face abroad, which is very different than the media portrayal of Israel, which is generally quite negative.”
Sylvan Adams (Photo: Sasson Tiram)Sylvan Adams (Photo: Sasson Tiram)
For Adams, sport is a vehicle and an opportunity to present Israel’s true face, in place of the frequent negative portrayals of his adopted home presented in the media.
“I like using sports and other cultural vehicles to tell our true story – the story of the Israel that we live in, what I like to I call ‘normal Israel,’ that is misunderstood around the world,” says Adams.
Adams says that the Israel Start-Up Nation team acts as a goodwill ambassador for the country. “All our riders know that they have a larger mission. It’s not just a sports team. We represent the home country.”
By presenting Israel in a favorable light, Adams is also attempting to promote and encourage tourism to Israel. In 2018, Adams brought to Israel the first three stages (out of 21) of the Giro d’Italia, the second-most prestigious bicycle race in the world after the Tour de France. The three-day event beamed the best of Israel to an estimated one billion viewers worldwide, and Adams says that the 38% spurt in Israeli tourism – the highest increase of any country – the following year was not coincidental.
Adams was one of the few Israelis invited to the signing of the Abraham Accords in Washington in mid-September, and viewed the invitation as an endorsement of his people-to-people style of creating friendship between nations.
“It was a great honor to be included, and to know that the work that I am doing is being recognized by the Americans,” he says, “because the invitation came from the United States, and I am not American. The fact that peace negotiators and the US government recognize the work that I am doing tells me that my projects are working and making a positive contribution.”
Adams is particularly effusive in his praise for US Ambassador David Friedman, and says, “We’ve never had an ambassador like David Friedman who understands the problem, and who works day and night as one of the architects of the Trump peace plan, that is paying dividends because we see peace agreements with our Gulf neighbors. I am humbled by the fact that he has taken note of some of my activities and feels like they are contributing to the entire process.”
As an example of his unique ability to foster friendship between peoples, Adams brought the Israel Start-Up Nation cycling team to the United Arab Emirates in February 2020, before COVID-19 enveloped the world.
“We were riding in the streets of an Arab country with whom we did not have diplomatic relations, wearing the blue and white national colors, and the Emiratis were standing in line to get autographs of our riders and receive souvenir water bottles with the word ‘Israel’ written on them.
“I said at the time – perhaps prophetically – that we are building people-to-people contacts, so that one day when our leaders decide to make peace, we will have already normalized the conditions for a warm peace on the ground. Little did I know that in a few months we would be formalizing a peace agreement.”
Adams is convinced that people-to-people contacts will continue to pave the way to peace with other Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, and hopes to bring his team to the Tour of Saudi Arabia cycling race in 2021.
Sylvan Adams with Guy Niv, the first Israeli national to race in the Tour de France.  (Photo: Noa Arnon)Sylvan Adams with Guy Niv, the first Israeli national to race in the Tour de France. (Photo: Noa Arnon)
SPEAKING WITH Adams, it is clear that he is hard at work on new projects designed to showcase the real Israel to large audiences. Adams says that he made several interesting contacts at his White House visit.
“I’ve got lots of projects,” he says with enthusiasm. “I have a number of very interesting irons in the fire.”
In addition to his activities designed to improve the perception of Israel around the world, Adams has made numerous contributions to furthering Israel from within. He is the lead donor in the creation of a state-of-the-art emergency ward at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv; the construction of the Sylvan Adams children’s hospital at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, to be completed this year; and the Save a Child’s Heart program, which offers lifesaving heart surgery to Israeli and Palestinian children at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, as well as mobile teams operating on children in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
Two days each week, children from Gaza with life-threatening heart conditions arrive at Wolfson Hospital for treatment, together with their doctors, and are greeted by Arabic-speaking professionals at the hospital.
“They are shown the kindness and the caring that the big Israeli heart has to offer,” says Adams.
He adds that doctors from African countries spend two to three years of training under the program’s auspices before returning home to set up heart surgery clinics in their home countries.
“This is beautiful work – tikkun olam – repairing the world and is a part of the ethos of the Jewish people, and who we are. I am trying to do my part to put a nice spotlight on that, to give adequate coverage of our humanitarian, sporting and cultural activities and show our true nature – the kindhearted, open, tolerant, diverse, fiercely democratic and, importantly, safe country that we are.”
Despite the catastrophic effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on Israel and the world at large, Adams is confident that Israel will recover. “COVID-19 has thrown the entire world for a loop, and we will have to reinvent ourselves. We in Israel will have to do so just like many countries around the world. I trust in our native spirit. Israel will be ahead of the curve, I am quite certain. If you give Israelis a challenge, we will provide solutions that will be used around the world.”
In the meantime and for the foreseeable future, Adams will continue his efforts to promote Israel and make its story understood by all.
Smiling, he says, “I like to say that when Israel is perceived as a normal country and loved everywhere, and peace breaks out everywhere, I can retire as a self-appointed ambassador. There won’t be a need for my services.”
Until then, Adams will keep smiling, working and generating peace – from people to people.
This article was written in cooperation with Sylvan Adams as part of the cooperative agreement for sponsorship of The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference.