Israel, Technology Leader – Despite Defending Against Terrorist Neighbors and World Anti-Semites

Despite defending itself (diplomatically – with one-hand) against anti-Semites in the UN, Europe and the US; as well as its civilian population (physically -with its other hand) against external rocket and internal terrorist attacks – tiny Israel has somehow survived, perhaps even thrived, during the otherwise world-wide collapse of industry and technology – thanks to teen-age seriousness and a culture of entrepreneurial high-technology.

In spite of the constant drumbeat of negative press coverage by liberal extremists (Israel, their double-standard pariah state), there is one aspect of this lone democracy in the mid-East that gets scant attention – the country’s technological economy. In the face of the inordinate per-capita economic and manpower drain on its limited resources which are expended in its own defense, Israel has still achieved the highest percentage concentration of innovation and entrepreneurial ism in the world. Despite railings against investment in Israel by extremist anti-Israel, pro-Arab special-interest-groups, giant multinational technology companies and global investors have been setting up research and development laboratories in Israel for decades. Even in 2008, a year of chaos for the global economy, the per-capita R and D ventures in Israel exceeded that of the US by 2.5 times, Europe by 30 times, China by 80 times, and India by 350 times. And for start-up companies, Israel still achieves the highest concentration in the world, with more Israeli companies listed on the US NASDAQ stock exchange than from Europe, China, Japan, India and Korea – combined. In the percentage of its total economy that is spent on R and D – giving the world the benefits of its innovative creativity across a wide spectrum of science and technology, notably in the pharmaceutical and medical fields – Israel is among world leaders.

Much of Israel’s economic dynamism, and the way it appears to have weathered the global downturn, seems traceable to young-adult seriousness and government policies which cultivate a unique entrepreneurial spirit, including innovative immigration policies and a disproportionate investment in high technology. However, the fundamental foundation may well be its universal military training and national service program – this seems to energize an early maturation of Israeli citizenry. While teen-age students in other countries preoccupy themselves with taking a years pre-college vacation or deciding which university to attend, Israelis focus on the country’s variety of military units. And while students elsewhere are thinking about where to vacation or how to get into the most desired universities, Israelis prepare themselves for recruitment into elite units of the Israel Defense Forces. For example, learning to speak Arabic is a leg up toward a desired assignment in the Intelligence branch of service.

During the year before attaining draft age at eighteen, Israeli youths, male and female, must report to IDF recruiting centers for an initial one-day screening, which includes aptitude and psychological exams, individual interviews, and a medical evaluation. At the end of the day, a health and psychometric classification is determined, with service possibilities presented to the young candidate in a personal interview.

An interesting factor in the national attitude and aptitude of Israelis, those who complete their training program together, remain as a team throughout the many years of their regular and reserve service. Thus, their unit becomes like a second family, and Israelis remain in the military reserves until their mid-forties.

While it is difficult to get into the top Israeli universities (comparable to Harvard, Princeton or Yale) the IDF’s elite units are considered equivalent. The unit in which an applicant served tells prospective employers what skills and relevant experience the applicant may already possess.

At the age of 18, Israelis enter the army for a minimum of two to three years, and if they don’t reenlist, they typically enroll at a university. A massive percentage of Israelis thus enter university from army service, far more than any other country. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, almost half of Israelis are university-educated, among the highest percentages in the world. And according to a recent World Competitiveness Yearbook, Israel was ranked second among sixty developed nations on the criterion of whether “university education meets the needs of a competitive economy”.

By the time students finish college, they’re in their mid-twenties; some already having graduate degrees, with a large number married. “All this changes the mental ability of the individual,” says Gary Shainberg, an eighteen-year veteran of the British navy, and Vice President for Technology and Innovation at British Telecom. “They’re much more mature, they’ve got more life experience – and Innovation is all about finding ideas.” He reasons.

Gil Kerbs, an Intelligence unit alumnus, who works in Israel’s venture capital industry, comments,
“In Israel, one’s academic past is less important than the military past – a key question in every job interview, ‘Where did you serve in the army?’”

The advantage that Israel’s economy and its society gains from this national service experience was driven home by Shainberg, “There is something about the DNA of Israeli innovation that is unexplainable,” he says, “I think it comes down to maturity: nowhere else in the world where people work at technology innovation, do they also have to do national service.”