YULA grad pioneers new way to move money to Israel


Joseph Sokol is used to reactions of disbelief when he sits down with technology industry bigwigs to pitch his startup, OlehPay, a payments website that enables users to inexpensively transfer dollars to Israeli bank accounts in the form of shekels.

“So you work for them?” they ask the lanky, yarmulke-clad 20-year-old. “You’re an intern? What’s your role? Who runs it?”

Sokol simply grins at their incredulity and informs them that it is, in fact, he who runs the startup, essentially by himself.

The company was born in March out of a problem Sokol himself faced. After graduating from YULA Boys High School on West Pico Boulevard, he moved to Jerusalem to study at a yeshiva, Machon Meir. After being “packed like sardines” into a single bedroom with five other students, he said he and a roommate decided to move out, but found that he couldn’t pay his rent without withdrawing a wad of cash from an ATM at a lousy exchange rate. 

No service seemed to exist that solved the problem for him, a fact he attributes to a de facto oligopoly on banking in Israel.

Sokol thought if he was having this issue, there must be plenty of American olim — immigrants to Israel — dealing with the same thing. OlehPay (olehpay.co.il) seeks to solve that problem.

Here’s how it works: After creating an account with your email and password, you enter the amount you want to pay in shekels, followed by your billing information and the bank account number of the recipient, along with his or her name and bank branch. 

Press a button, and the order is placed: The appropriate dollar amount is drawn from your bank account or credit card and shows up in the recipient’s account in shekels. The service charges a 1.99 percent fee on credit card transactions but is free for debit cards and never charges recipients.

Sokol alleges to be able to beat the individual rate consumers get from financial institutions. The front page of the OlehPay website offers a calculator for how much users can save against the bank rate by using it.

Nowadays, Sokol bounces back and forth between Los Angeles and Jerusalem, where he works out of the office of Forex Israel, the payments company that processes OlehPay transactions. He speaks conversational Hebrew and fluent startup-ese, gracefully conjugating terms of the trade, such as “use case” and “API” (application program interface). 

The company is his foot in the door of what he says is a growth industry — online payments — pointing to a number of companies that have blossomed in that space, including PayPal and Square, a mobile device plug-in that takes credit card payments. As a sign of the ascendancy of the financial technology space, even Facebook has crafted a feature enabling users to pay one another via its messaging service.

So far, nearly $80,000 has passed through Sokol’s service from about 150 user accounts. While much of that sum comes from the types of use he imagined — large, recurring payments such as rent or mortgage — some people have begun using OlehPay to contract with Israeli professionals, like lawyers or software developers, from the United States, he said.

Sokol said that although he’s already received requests to branch out to pounds and other currencies, he won’t be expanding until he feels the service is on solid footing.

Part of the formula of his success is that by looking at the company’s slick website, one would be hard-pressed to finger OlehPay as the brainchild of a 20-year-old who went AWOL from college — after studying a year in Israel, Sokol spent a semester at UC Santa Barbara before deciding it wasn’t his scene. (“I like to think I’m autodidactic,” he explained.)

The web interface is sleek and touts a partnership with the popular Israeli online messaging board for English-speaking services, Janglo.net, where users can pay for work using OlehPay. 

Despite his youth, Sokol is not an amateur in the world of entrepreneurship. At 14, he started a woodworking camp in his backyard in Beverlywood, where he says he taught more than a dozen teenagers how to use a hammer. 

Then, before starting OlehPay, he and a partner he met in yeshiva sold a Hebrew learning application for $15,000, an experience he said provided him with the enthusiasm, connections and starting capital to launch his current venture.

Likewise, he sees OlehPay as a launching pad for bigger and better things. 

“This is absolutely not where I’m going to stop,” he said. “Especially since I sort of gave up my college education for this.”

Israel’s high tech aims to help the elderly


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

More and more elderly people worldwide are joining the technology revolution, and technology is coming to meet them halfway. In Israel, one of the world’s high-tech capitals, companies are racing to develop new applications and products for the senior citizens set.

“The population is getting older and this creates a lot of challenges as people are living alone and not being involved in society as much as younger people,” Eran Gal, CEO of Xorcom a company developing a home monitoring solution, told The Media Line. Called Amity, the software is capable of monitoring both location and behavior patterns to ensure that an older person has not fallen or wandered away from their home in cases of dementia. The idea is to give elderly more independence while keeping them safe.

A second startup, E2C has developed a simplified operating system that works with off-the-shelf hardware to create a smartphone that is more user friendly for older customers. The program responds to longer presses on the touch screen (to prevent accidental calls), always uses a full screen keyboard, and collects pictures and messages from different programs into one easy-to-find location. The program is aimed at reconnecting elderly people to friends and family and allowing a smartphone to be an aid rather than an obstacle. Currently, only around 20% of seniors in the US are using smartphones, E2C’s co-founder Amir Alon, told The Media Line, and he hopes his application could increase that number.

“We are taking the latest technologies and making it relevant for the senior citizens, and we can change the life of the senior,” Alon said. “Our flagship product is our smartphone for seniors. We take off the shelf hardware, and we make our own kind of Android for seniors.”

It makes good business sense, as well as ethical social responsibility, to cater to the elderly, Nir Shimony, the CEO and co-founder of TechForGood, a group which aims to promote social works through innovative technological solutions, told The Media Line. “We want to harness the Israeli out-of-the-box way of tackling business issues into tackling social issues,” Shimony explained. The size and growth of the elderly population in the developed world makes them an attractive consumer group to companies, as does their relative wealth.

Other Israeli startups moving into the field of elderly care include: Video Therapy, a solution aimed at improving the efficiency of therapy for older citizens by allowing them to interact with their trainer via video-call; and Atlas Sense, unobtrusive, wearable technology that can read and transmit a subject’s vital signs to monitor their health, and even detect if a person falls.

Many of the new companies’ technologies raised questions regarding the ethics of monitoring an individual or of the continuous integration of a person’s body with digital technology. This was something acknowledged by several of the entrepreneurs who noted that new technologies can have an impact on society at large.

This was especially true of Moran Zur, the CEO of Safe Beyond, a startup which enables a user to leave video messages for their loved ones after their death.

“We try actually to change the perception of death… we believe that the fact you stop existing in the real world does not mean that you will not continue existing in the digital world,” Zur told The Media Line.

Safe Beyond’s video messages can be triggered by a date, an individual going to a certain location or even by a key event like a grown child’s wedding. Facebook turns a user’s page into a memorial site after their death so this sort of program is not without precedent, the CEO suggested. Rather the application gives control of this digital legacy to the user who can decide what to leave behind and who to leave it for, Zur said.

Google in Tel Aviv recently hosted all of these companies as part of Aging 2.0, high-tech pitch events for 30 cities in 30 days. At the end of the day in Tel Aviv, the audience voted for their favorites, and E2C’s smartphone received the most votes. CEO Amir Alon will go on to the next level of the competition in San Francisco later this year.

10 Israeli startups to watch


Roojoom is the latest buzzword you need to know for online content. It’s a new Israeli platform that helps publishers, businesses and  individuals curate Web content, organize it and guide readers.

Sounds similar to Flipboard? Marni Mandell, head of business development for Roojoom, said that while Flipboard lets people curate their favorite stories into a personalized magazine as soon as they click on a link, the reader is led elsewhere on the Web. Roojoom readers stay in a pre-organized content space even when they click on a link or hyperlink, leading to increased engagement and improved click-through rates.

“It keeps people on topic even if they go off topic,” Mandell said. “Roojoom is like a guided tour on the Web. It is going to change the way people read online.” 

The new technology won Most Promising Start-up at Microsoft Ventures Tel Aviv Accelerator’s graduation party in November. Roojoom joined nine other startups in the accelerator’s third program that helps new companies create world-class products and services and take a significant leap into the global marketplace.

At the program’s Demo Day, international and local media came to have a peek at the cool new technologies. The other companies to have concluded the accelerator program that are likely to snag headlines in the near future are: Appixia, CellMining, ConferPlace, KitLocate, Navin, MetalCompass, Kytera, Semperis and Vubooo.

“We are building extraordinary startups around the world,” Microsoft Ventures Senior Director Zack Weisfeld said. “One of our biggest strengths is our unique partnerships with enterprise customers and our ability to provide startups with unparalleled access to markets. We’re giving startups a head start.”

MetalCompass has already taken the mobile gaming industry by storm with its groundbreaking technology that lets users play in a real environment with their smartphones. 

But Jonatan Mor, CEO and co-founder of MetalCompass, said the Microsoft course helped narrow their focus to “partner with other companies from all around the world that use our solution, and we’re helping them create the next generation of entertainment products.”

Vubooo — the largest interactive engagement platform for pro sports fans — joined the program with an already growing customer base of more than 500,000 Android users on its beta platform.

Still, Itav Topaz, Vubooo CEO and co-founder, said the accelerator had much to do with the company’s recent achievements.

“The progress we have achieved in four months is truly amazing and would have taken us at least a year to get to the place we are now,” Topaz said. “The accelerator is like a co-founder of the company. Its goal is that we succeed.”

Guy Schory of eBay, a partner with Microsoft Ventures Tel Aviv Accelerator, said it has been inspiring to see the startups that come out of the accelerator program.

“We are proud to have been a part of it,” he said. “Combine this highly talented batch of entrepreneurs with world-class mentorship and the creative energy of the ‘startup nation,’ and you’ve got a tremendous springboard for success.”

Microsoft Ventures runs accelerator programs for early-stage startups or first-time entrepreneurs around the globe. Its Tel Aviv Accelerator, opened in April 2012, has graduated 34 companies so far.

Eighty-five percent of the first 24 startups from the first two cohorts raised an average of $1 million in funding within half a year of graduation. Five of the 10 most recent graduates received an average of $1 million in funding or formal proposals even before the latest four-month program ended.

“The accomplishments of our third round of startups, the rising number of major multinationals participating in the program and the significant amounts of funding already achieved all point to the increasing success of our program,” said Hanan Lavy, director of Microsoft Ventures Accelerator.

“We’re even seeing companies which are skipping the seed stage and heading straight towards A-round funding — a testament to the quality of the entrepreneurs in this batch.”

The 10 recent graduates were picked from a pool of 380 candidates. They include indoor location-based services, cloud recovery, tele-care solutions for the elderly, guided Web browsing and augmented-reality gaming.

Navin, a crowd-sourced navigation platform/app that works indoors and out, and KitLocate, software development infrastructure that allows companies to provide location-based services using minimal battery power on mobile devices, believe they have something new to add to the navigation technology field.

KitLocate CEO Omri Moran said the Israel Defense Forces trains people to find new ways to navigate out of different situations, and that has helped Israel become a powerhouse in navigation technologies. 

Most companies joined the accelerator program with an idea. 

ConferPlace, the first conference platform that delivers a full conference experience online from anywhere in the world, officially launched at the graduation. The company started in March 2013, introduced a beta version in July and went live in November.

“The mentors in the program helped us focus our path, finding exactly where we want to be,” said Hilla Manor, CEO and co-founder.

LAPD scopes out Israeli drones, ‘Big Data’ solutions


For the first nine days of February, eight of the Los Angeles Police Department’s top brass were 7,500 miles away from home, being shuttled around Israel in a minibus.

“They complained because it was like in the army — they went from place to place to place, and they needed some rest,” joked Arie Egozi, a partner at i-HLS, the Israeli homeland-security news site that organized the LAPD tour. “You know, the Israelis want to push everything.”

LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez, a good-natured 30-year veteran of the department who oversees its central bureau, tweeted updates at nearly every stop. On Feb. 2, he shared a group photo of the Los Angeles delegation visiting the corporate headquarters of Nice Systems, an Israeli security and cyber intelligence company that can intercept and instantly analyze video, audio and text-based communications. (A seemingly tongue-in-cheek inspirational poster on the wall behind them reads: “Every voice deserves to be heard.”) A couple days later, Perez posed for a photo with Samuel Bashan, whom he called “Israel’s premier bomb expert,” at a fancy group dinner.

The group visited private security firms and drone manufacturers, as well as the terror-prone Ashdod Port, a museum in Sderot full of old rockets shot from nearby Gaza (the same one United States President Barack Obama visited on his 2008 campaign trip to Israel), and a “safe city” underground control center in the large suburb of Rishon LeZion, which receives live streams from more than 1,000 cameras with license plate recognition installed throughout the city.

Meanwhile, the tour attracted some skepticism back home. Max Blumenthal, a journalist and critic of Israel with a hefty online following, tweeted: “LAPD delegation heads to Israel to learn lessons in control, domination and exclusion.” Another Twitter user, @JustBadre, tweeted asking Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti: “why is #lapd in Israel on taxpayer $? Should #lapd be training with forces that have human rights violations?”

As of press time, LAPD media relations had not responded to a request for the total cost of the trip and the source of the funds. However, a previous trip to Israel by four members of the LAPD bomb squad reportedly cost $18,000.

The LAPD-Israel bond was in large part fused by former LAPD Chief William Bratton, who made official trips to Israel to learn about the country’s advanced counter-terrorism tactics during his chiefdom from 2002 to 2009. At a town hall meeting in Los Angeles near the end of his term, Bratton said of Israeli intelligence experts: “They are our allies. They are some of the best at what they do in the world, and that close relationship has been one of growing strength and importance.”

The most recent visit was organized by Deputy Chief Michael Downing, commander of the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, and led by Horace Frank, commander of the LAPD Information Technology (IT) Bureau. “We had this grant funding that was available for us to look at emergency technologies and best practices,” Frank explained to the Journal while in Israel. “Normally we do send people here [to Israel], but not at that level. So this was an opportunity to really bring some high-level command decision makers to take a look at what’s going on.”

Frank was joined by seven of his fellow command staff at the Big Data Intelligence Conference hosted by i-HLS in the beach town of Herzliya, Israel, on Feb. 6.

“On behalf of my chief of police, Chief Charlie Beck, and the 13,000-plus sworn and non-sworn members of the Los Angeles Police Department, a very heartfelt thanks to all of you for having me here,” Frank said in an opening statement for the conference, which brought together some of Israel’s — and the world’s — top cyber security and intelligence experts.

The LAPD’s head IT guy continued: “Now let’s be honest … This whole idea of best practices is just a euphemism for: We’re here to steal some of your great ideas. And a lot of great ideas and technology, indeed, you do have here in Israel. I would hope that you do not view this as a negative, because in this day and age of globalization, our needs are truly similar. In fact, we are much more alike than dis-alike. As civilized nations, we are all confronted with, in many cases, the same enemy: The ever-growing threat of terrorism and other major criminal elements.”

At the conference’s coffee break, Frank and a few of his colleagues spoke to the Journal about the highlights of their nine-day tour.

Frank said he was especially impressed by what he saw while visiting Israeli companies Nice Systems (as tweeted by Perez) and Verint, one of the companies whose services the National Security Administration (NSA) reportedly used in the infamous United States wiretapping scandal. Both companies already count the LAPD as a client. But, Frank said, “we’re looking at some of their additional solutions … They have a lot of new technologies that we are very much interested in.”

Nice System’s  president of security, Yaron Tchwella, spoke at the conference about the company’s ability to help government agencies capture and store the billions of calls, emails, messages and social media posts that their populations generate each day, then analyze it in real time to detect potential threats. Tchwella projected an image of Albert Einstein onto the overhead, explaining that Einstein’s dream was to store data dynamically, so that it mimics the capabilities of the human brain — tying incoming information to the vast amounts already stored, thus recontextualizing the big picture. 

For example, Tchwella said, “the connection between IDF [Israel Defense Forces] databases provides us with a grasp on reality, and allows for the connectivity between things that change between time, geography … and semantics. This is what we do every day in our brains.” 

Perez said he hoped the LAPD, too, would eventually be able to “use technology to incorporate all the systems that we have. That’s the wave of the future. We’re definitely looking at the ability to get that information out to the officers on the beat with a handheld. Something happens, and you’re looking at the handheld — almost like ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ — here’s a picture of the guy you’re looking for.”

LAPD watchdog Hamid Khan expressed concern, however, that emerging technologies such as Nice’s would give new legs to questionable LAPD policies.

“For us, it’s not only about the type of technology, but how this technology further enhances the existing capacity of any of these agencies to gather more information,” Khan said.

Khan, 53, a Pakistani native and former commercial airline pilot, formed the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition two years ago. The coalition has since been campaigning against a series of federal “fusion centers” created by the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 — including one in the Los Angeles. area utilized by the LAPD. The centers allow federal, state and local agencies to share information about civilians, in hopes of detecting potential terrorists.

Also in Khan’s crosshairs is Special Order 1, an LAPD policy that allows officers to document any otherwise lawful activity that they, or other members of the community, deem suspicious. (Including, for example, the photographing of certain government sites.) And new LAPD intel collection methods or surveillance drones, said Khan, would only be “adding more to their toolbox of being highly militarized in counterinsurgency forces” against protesters and movements such as Occupy. “Yet it is wrapped in this whole language of community policing.”

Two separate L.A. Weekly investigations in 2012 found that the LAPD uses expensive StingRay devices, which can locate cellphones (and their users) by acting like cellphone towers, and license-plate recognition cameras that track millions of drivers. Although both devices technically require a warrant to be used in a police investigation, there is little way to know whether police are always complying with the rules.

Peter Bibring, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, said the coupling of spy technology with watered-down police guidelines “represents a step backward to the [1970s-era] collection of information about individuals and their whereabouts without reasonable suspicion that they’re involved in criminal activities.”

And that, he said, “is very troubling.”

Surveillance drones manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Sky Sapience were also hot items on the LAPD tour. Both Frank and Perez lit up when talking about the HoverMast, a new tethered drone from Sky Sapience that was just released to the IDF late last year.

“There are several things on the wish list, but we did like Sky Sapience — that was incredible,” Perez said. “For me personally, just for my command, which is five stations, and all the special events that I have, crowd control and being able to see everything would be some technology that is needed immediately.”

However, Frank added, the HoverMast “has its challenges: from a political standpoint, convincing our political leaders, and from a community standpoint, convincing the community that it’s not Big Brother watching over you.”

A spokeswoman for Sky Sapience said the HoverMast can intercept wireless communications, and its cameras are capable of facial recognition. A spokeswoman for IAI said that while showing LAPD officers their drones, the company “wanted to emphasize the fact that drones can be very helpful in giving intelligence in urban scenarios… you need it now, you need it quick, you need to see what’s inside a window, and what’s behind this building.”

Nimrod Kozlovski, co-founder of Tel Aviv University’s cyber security program and a leading expert in the industry, argued that the Fourth Amendment would limit police in the United States from using Israeli technology to spy without a warrant. “But if you relax these standards or create too many exemptions,” he said, “there is certainly a risk that [civilians] will be subject to ongoing monitoring and interception by law enforcement agencies, which is certainly not the proper balance between government and individual.”

Many of the companies attracting LAPD interest have one thing in common: They were formed by veterans of the IDF’s elite, top-secret 8200 Unit, better known as Israel’s version of the NSA. 

“This notion that you collect mass amounts of intelligence in order to sort and analyze it has been known and expected in Israel for years,” Kozlovski said. “It wasn’t known and well-taught in the U.S. that secret services don’t operate on probable cause, so this mass collection took them by surprise. We [Israelis] tend to give more permission to counter-terror operations to use a technology that will be able to predict a potential terrorist. It’s more socially acceptable.”

Perez emphasized that as a local police agency, the LAPD has much tighter legal constraints than federal agencies to adhere to when adopting army-born surveillance and “big data” technologies. 

But critics worry that as federal and local agencies continue to collaborate, and constitutional law races to catch up with high-tech security solutions, lines will blur. “Now people are starting to realize, now that the NSA piece is out there, that this is very local, this is everyday 24/7 policing … not a science fiction movie,” Khan said. 

The women of startup nation


Kira Radinksy, co-founder and chief technology officer of Israeli startup SalesPredict, is something of an anomaly among the leaders of Israel’s proud “startup nation.” And not just because she was a child prodigy who started her computer science career at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology at age 15. Rather, it’s that she’s a woman.

At 26, the dark and stunning Russian-Israeli entrepreneur has locked down a doctorate in computer science from Technion, built an award-winning data-mining system for Microsoft Research and started her own company, a cloud-based application that helps other companies predict customer behavior. In August, the MIT Technology Review took notice, recognizing Radinsky as the youngest of 10 women in its annual crop of “35 Innovators Under 35.”

In person, she’s petite and ultra-chatty, trading the hoodies and jeans of her eight male staffers for a ripped T-shirt and capris held up by a chunky white belt. According to Radinsky, it hardly ever crosses her mind that she’s a woman in a sea of men — but there are always those odd moments of self-awareness, like when someone assumes she’s the SalesPredict secretary or human-resources girl, or when, during a photo shoot for Israeli magazine Lady Globes, she’s dolled up in thick makeup and Dolce & Gabbana and told to “look powerful.”

“Here in Israel, no one really talks about” the absence of women in high tech, said Ranit Fink, vice president of business development for hot Israeli startup Cellrox — another rare female success story in the startup nation. “It’s just not on the agenda.”

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, women make up about 35 percent of the nation’s high-tech workforce, a statistic that hasn’t budged for the last decade. (It also doesn’t illustrate how many of these women are filling low-level and nontechnical positions within the high-tech sector.) And although Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor could not provide more specific data on the male-to-female ratio within the nation’s high-tech startups by press time, various company heads and investors in Israel — when interviewed by the Journal — agreed that they very rarely see a female face within the upper ranks of the Israeli tech world. 

“I see very, very, very few,” Fink said. “I go to conferences; I go to meetings — and it’s very rare that I see women.”

A review of the management teams for “20 Israeli startups to look out for” — published this spring in Israeli economic journal The Marker — shows that a mere 8 percent of team members are female. A representative for the Israeli venture capital firm The Trendlines Group said that of its 60 current portfolio companies, only about three are run by women. And over the last five years as a senior associate at Israeli venture capital firm JVP, Evelyn Rubin, now a vice president at crowd-funding venture OurCrowd, said that she “could probably count on one hand” the total number of women who have passed through the JVP offices. 

“I remember this crazy sense of having seen almost zero female entrepreneurs,” Rubin said. “Of course you’re not going to see 50/50, but you would expect to see at least 15 percent.”

At OurCrowd, too, Rubin guessed that in the last six months, the deal flow team has encountered only about seven female entrepreneurs, out of the 80 to 100 startups it sees per month. (OurCrowd, though it boasts three women on its management team, has yet to fund a female-run startup.)

Some encouraging steps for women in Israeli high tech have made the news in recent months. Thousands of female Charedi Jews, for example, are being employed as coders and software testers across Israel, and are — as touted in a Haaretz headline — “closing the high-tech gender gap in Israel.”

“The Charedi education system is geared toward encouraging women to pursue lucrative careers,” said Rubin, who works with women in the ultra-Orthodox community. (However, she added that “it’s a bit of a different model. These are mostly software development businesses, not your typical high-risk companies like Waze,” the navigation app company recently purchased by Google.)

In addition, more life-science-oriented branches of the tech industry in Israel, such as biotechnology and medical technology, are actually dominated by women: According to the online news magazine Israel21c, a full 65 percent of Israel’s biotech workers are female. 

“When I first took a position in med-tech, women felt more comfortable to come and to try, because it was dominated by females,” said Nitza Kardish, who now runs Israeli startup incubator Mofet Venture Accelerator. “It created this ecosystem where we were comfortable.”

But Israel’s most prized economy — its buzzing collection of 1,000 or more trendy tech companies, all built from scratch — is overwhelmingly male. There’s a reason that Tel Avivians often jokingly profile the stereotypical “startup bro”: because so many of them fit the bill.

Experts have presented a few different theories as to why women like Radinksy and Fink are so rare. 

One common narrative is that women are less likely to take large financial risks or make big life changes for their job, which can conflict with the traditionally female responsibilities of family and home. “Almost 100 percent of the women entrepreneurs that I meet, if they’re married, will base their ability to do what they’re doing on support from their partner,” said Lesa Mitchell, a vice president at the U.S.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and author of a recent report on the challenges for female entrepreneurs. And Daphne Koller, the Israeli co-founder of booming U.S. startup Coursera, attested that: “For me, the biggest challenge is trying to juggle family commitments with an ever-increasing workload.”

Rubin of OurCrowd said that, in her experience, “It’s not a question of the actual time commitment, just an element of an appetite for risk. An ability to say, ‘I want to take $10 million to fund this business’ ” — not knowing if it will necessarily succeed.

Another theory is that from a young age, girls don’t see computer science and technology as subjects in which they are most likely to succeed — partly because of the low visibility of female role models in the field.

For men, Rubin said, “They see that a guy named Gil who lives around the corner was able to do it, so why can’t they do it? There are women who have built successful companies, but they’re not at the forefront.”

Radinksy, the CTO of SalesPredict, said she has observed other women shy away from the field because they are worried that they aren’t “technical” enough or as obsessed with gadgets as their male peers. She credited her own high-tech confidence with her upbringing in a Russian family that held more communist values of gender equality, wrote simple computer programs with her as a kid and valued computer science above other subjects. Radinksy said she never saw herself as less cut out for the field than any man. 

“Until I went to the army, I never knew I was a minority in anything,” she said.

Indeed, the male-dominated technological units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have come to serve as incubators for the cliques that eventually become Israel’s hundreds of tech startups, according to Radinksy and others familiar with Israel’s startup culture.

“[Israeli] men will not be shy to pick up the phone,” said Helena Glaser, former president of the Women’s International Zionist Organization. “Men will feel obligated to help one another — and it starts in the army. Women in general don’t have this network. And this is a network of getting jobs.”

According to statistics provided to the Journal by the IDF, as of last year, only 16.8 percent of soldiers serving in technological positions in the IDF were women. And that’s a huge step up from a decade before, when the IDF reported that “the percentage of woman serving in these positions had reached 7 percent at most.”

Said Fink of Cellrox: “In Israel specifically, people are recruiting people based on the army. And in my generation, women couldn’t do everything in the army.”

From a funding standpoint, investors might also be more likely to stick with the kind of startup that has worked for them in the past. 

“Part of the issue now in Israel, is that funders tend to fund experienced entrepreneurs,” said Rubin, an experienced investor in Israeli startups. “So, because there hasn’t been a first generation of women entrepreneurs, they’re up against that barrier against men who have already [seen success].” 

Even once a woman has networked her way into the high-tech bubble, the workplace environment isn’t always welcoming.

Fink said that as a female in Israel’s high-tech sector, she has received dozens of “horrible comments — really horrible things” relating to her gender, both from outside businessmen and her own colleagues.

On blogs and forums online, much has been written about a similar male-to-male network in the Silicon Valley — a “bro-grammer” culture that keeps men in tech’s top positions and sometimes makes the workplace uncomfortable for women.

Ellen Ullman, a high-profile U.S. software engineer turned author, said that in America, she has witnessed an unhealthy “boys in a treehouse” attitude propagate itself among the nation’s techies, both at the academic and industry levels. “A woman walks into this culture, and she gets the worst of it: She’s more visible, scrutinized more closely and will not feel welcome,” Ullman said. She added that from the perspective of many venture capitalists, “Everyone’s got to be a kid in a hoodie. If you don’t look like Mark Zuckerberg, maybe you’re not right for it.”

So what does high tech stand to gain from a larger pool of female leaders?

A Dow Jones report in 2012 surveying 20,000 startups across the United States, showed that “companies have a greater chance of either going public, operating profitably or being sold for more money than they’ve raised when they have females acting as founders, board members, C-level officers, vice presidents and/or directors.”

Mitchell cited the study, saying that in order to move forward, both men and women in high tech “need to acknowledge this data and create solutions themselves by changing the networks” of entrepreneurs and investors. 

With a stronger female presence in high tech, the possibilities for modern technology are vast, said Weili Dai, co-founder of global semiconductor company Marvell Technology Group and a speaker at this year’s Israeli Presidential Conference: “We need more women to participate because technology is becoming part of our lifestyle,” she said. “I see this as a duty, to reflect the natural talent of women in the high-tech industry.”

And the startup nation may never reach its full potential without the talents of this untapped population. New research coming out of the Reut Institute, a widely respected policy group created to advise the Israeli government, suggests that the linear, non-inclusive model of startup nation as we know it — which has, up to this point, underutilized not only women but ethnic and religious minorities as well — may only succeed for so long. 

Orna Berry, famed Israeli venture capitalist and one of the original female entrepreneurs of startup nation, likewise warned that in order to remain competitive in the global market, the Israeli high-tech economy needs to see greater participation from a workforce made up of varying genders, age groups and backgrounds.

“If you team up with people who come from the same mold, and you’re choosing only people who you know what their path was and what their intellectual style is, it is somewhat restrictive in my mind … and it is a limiting factor in the scale-out element,” she said. “This is not just a matter of social justice.”

Replicating revolution: Reut Institute advances 3-D printing for all


Few aspects of Israeli society are dearer to the national identity than its high-tech sector — a class of entrepreneurs so churning with ideas and innovation that they have earned Israel the title of “startup nation.” 

But can this legacy last forever? Research from the last few years has shown that Israel’s startup model is no longer sustainable, according to the Reut Institute, a forward-looking think tank formed 10 years ago by Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli peace negotiator, to help inform lagging government policy in Israel. 

“What does it take for a country to lead an industrial revolution?” Grinstein asked during an interview at the institute’s sleek maze of offices, located among the tech warehouses of northeast Tel Aviv. “Generally speaking, what you need is broad exposure, broad literacy, a very large pool of talent — and out of this talent come the leaders, the entrepreneurs, the managers.” 

By contrast, Israel’s current model — based on a few bright minds and a limited pool of seed money — “is extremely exclusive,” Grinstein said. “Very few people participate.  So in order to make it inclusive … we went open source.” 

The Reut Institute took action on its findings in winter of last year, embarking on a wildly ambitious mission to familiarize the entire Israeli population with what Reut leaders, and tech experts around the world, are calling the centerpiece of the third industrial revolution: the 3-D printer. 

By layering many razor-thin sheets of a material on top of one another — most commonly using a simple type of plastic called polylactic acid, or PLA, in a liquid form that dries quickly — 3-D printers can render 3-D computer designs into a fully functioning object in a matter of hours. This technology is the closest humanity has come to inventing touchable e-mail, Willy Wonka style: All one has to do is send a 3-D design file and a recipient can print it out on the other end. Some of the machines can even print chocolate. 

And Israel, as the Reut Institute sees it, has the potential to lead the revolution. Reut has so far opened three public 3-D printing labs — in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Bat Yam — part of a rapidly self-replicating Cross-Lab Network (XLN) that uses its own minimalist 3-D printers to print more printers that can populate new labs, at very low cost ($400 to $600 per printer, according to lab managers). The “great-grandmother” of the printers, which to the untrained eye looks like a high-tech Tinkertoy, has a special spot on the shelf at the very first XLN location, in Tel Aviv. 

By the end of 2014, Reut CEO Roy Keidar, head of the XLN, said he hopes to open 15 more labs across Israel. And five years from now, the goal is to expand to between 30 and 50 locations. 

The Tel Aviv workshop, a bright-white basement littered with plastics and computer chips and half-built gadgets, recently celebrated the first graduating class of its weeklong “Maker’s Academy” — a crash course in 3-D imaging, printing and programming that Reut hopes will bring together and train the future leaders of the network. At the event, one 14-year-old from Haifa showed off his robot, which waves its hands when a motion sensor tells it someone is near, and L.A. native Ari Platt unveiled complex plans for a medical device that uses spatial recognition to help doctors improve their precision during surgery. 


Seen from above, this image shows an open-source 3-D printer built and used by Reut Institute’s XLN Initiative. Photos courtesy of the Reut Institute

“I came here, and they really taught me the basics of programming,” said Platt, who added that he had barely any technological experience before the course. “Now I understand [the technology], and I feel much more comfortable using it. I wouldn’t mind going online and trying to teach myself. Before, I would never have gotten close to it. 

“Once you get down to the basics,” he said, “you realize it’s not so hard. People get afraid of things that are unknown.” 

Scientists have predicted that in the not-too-distant future, 3-D printers will be capable of spitting out full-scale buildings, space bases, working human organs and beyond. 

This news, of course, comes as no surprise to the Internet’s tech-nerd community, which has been sharing open-source 3-D printing designs on Web sites like Thingiverse.com for years now. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also jumped on board in 2001, and started setting up a series of professional-level 3-D fabrication laboratories, or “fab labs,” around the world — of which there are now almost 150, including one in Jerusalem and one in the Israeli suburb of Holon. 

But in the last year, world leaders have started to take notice as well. 

“A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union address. “And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made in America.” 

Earlier this summer, the commercial potential of 3-D printing reached new heights when the largest manufacturer of 3-D printers, Stratasys — co-headquartered in the United States and Israel — bought up MakerBot, a more low-end 3-D printing company that got its start selling home-assembly 3-D printer kits. Together, analysts have predicted that the two companies will vastly expand 3-D printing at the consumer level. 

Another Israeli startup, Something3-D, has big plans to “put a 3-D printer in every home” in Israel, according to business journal
The graduating class of the first Makers Academy. Among those in the class are: back row, left, Etai Evenhaim, and back row, third from left, Ari Platt, both of L.A. Standing, far right, is Arnon Zamir, XLN’s Chief Operating Officer. Second from left, third row, is Sefi Attias, XLN’s Chief Technology Officer, a graduate of YULA in Los Angeles.

Reut also has put a strong emphasis on designing cheap and customizable devices for people with special needs: In late August, the institute will host an intensive 3-D-design competition for special-needs devices. Competitors are currently pulling all-nighters in the lab, shaping entries such as a hearing aid that can attach to a smartphone, a computer mouse for a person with arthritis and customizable glasses for kids. 

The only rule: Entries must remain open source. 

“Our purpose is not to build a high-end printer that will compete with $20,000 printers,” Grinstein said during a tour of the lab in Tel Aviv. “Our objective is that you’ll have Israelis from all over the map understanding what is a 3-D printer, building one, designing stuff, participating — and those who take to it will eventually become the leaders and the entrepreneurs.” 

Experts at the Reut Institute aren’t the only ones to warn of the potential downfall of startup nation, if access to modern technology and cutting-edge education does not become available at all levels of Israeli society. A recent Google Israel study, whose results were published by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, found that “in the last decade, an unacceptable gap has developed between the integration of ICT [information and communications technology] into all aspects of life and the reality in Israeli schools, and between Israeli schools and those in the other countries.” 

To meet this challenge, the Reut Institute is working with schools and other learning institutions across Israel to set up 3-D printing labs within existing structures, with financial help from city governments. The lab in Bat Yam, for example, is a collaboration with the Branco Weiss School for At-Risk Students. “The students really responded to the machines,” Keidar said, “and to this method of using their hands.” 

Reut hopes to reach every level of Israeli society by setting up 3-D labs in unlikely places, such as the low-income kibbutz town of Kiryat Shmona, the heavily Arab town of Sakhnin, the heavily Orthodox town of Tsfat — even one day in Ramallah in the West Bank. 

“The [economic] model of the Israeli government failed to deliver on the pledge that growth will trickle down, so our challenge is to generate inclusive growth — growth that includes all the population,” Grinstein said. 

At Reut’s Tel Aviv location, that dream is having growing pains. At the first Maker’s Academy graduation, of almost a dozen participants, Grinstein noted that no women were present but was proud that about 20 percent of graduates were in the racial minority.

“Next time, if we still have 100 percent males in the graduating class, it will be a problem,” Grinstein said. He explained that in order for women — especially religious women — to be attracted to the XLN, “they need to trust the environment.” 


These nameplates were produced by pupils at the Branco Weiss School for At-Risk Students during their first course in 3-D printing.

Reut is also fighting fears that the 3-D revolution could be more of an apocalypse. The sexiest controversy of the 3-D printing era, both in the United States and Israel, has been the big 2013 reveal that the printers can print gun parts that would otherwise require a license to buy in a store. Cody Wilson, a Texas law student, opened up a fiery debate about the future of tech crime this spring when Forbes published proof that his 3-D-printed firearms were fully functional and downloadable from the Internet. Although he has since removed the code for the gun from his Defense Distributed Web site, it is by now hosted on countless other sites — perfect proof that lawmakers can’t fight open-source sprawl and will need to find new ways of policing the products of the 3-D era. 

In Israel, this July, Channel 10 news reporter Ori Even sneaked a plastic, 3-D-printed pistol into parliament and pointed it at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while a TV crew filmed his trembling hand. The controversial report proved that in security-obsessed Israel, officials must race to fit policy around the future of technology. 

Leaders at Reut said that although 3-D-printed weapons pose a major regulatory challenge for lawmakers, any new realm of technology will have a dark side — and the institute’s mission is to “focus on the good, and the opportunity.” 

The future of Israel as a global economic leader could depend on it. 

“This is about the fundamental learning that Israel’s society and economy need to go through in order to survive and thrive in a world of self-manufacturing,” Grinstein explained, pointing to a dizzying graph of the startup-nation model that had been left up on a dry-erase board in the Reut offices. 

“Our vision here is not just 3-D printing, not just a network of communal technological spaces — our vision is Israel leading the coming industrial revolution.”

Google bought Waze for less than $1 billion


Google paid less than the previously reported $1.1 billion for the Israeli navigation app Waze.

The purchase price came in at $966 million in cash, Waze reported July 25 in its financial report for the second quarter of 2013, the Israeli business daily Globes reported. The purchase was completed six weeks ago.

Waze is a free downloadable navigation app with nearly 50 million subscribers.

Prior talks between Waze and the social networking site Facebook reportedly had broken down over Waze’s insistence that the company’s managers and employees remain in their Israeli headquarters in Raanana rather than relocating to Menlo Park, Calif.

Billion-dollar Waze


UPDATE [7/29/13]: Google bought Waze for $966 million.

Just a couple of years ago, the Israeli entrepreneurs behind the traffic-fighting smartphone app Waze were knocking down the door of every news outlet in Los Angeles. They were seeking publicity to help forge their way into the iPhones and Androids of L.A. drivers by promising some reprieve from “Carmageddon” weekend on the 405 freeway. Waze argued that its brave new method of crowdsourcing map and traffic data — via social media, with input from an active user base — would be the perfect tool to navigate drivers around the monster 405 freeway project and resulting traffic jams. The company needed press, and bad — because if enough people didn’t use the app, it wouldn’t work for anyone.

Well, they don’t need the press anymore. On June 11, Google Inc., the American tech giant at the forefront of online mapping, bought Waze Mobile for between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, according to various media reports (neither company has disclosed the final sum). Google’s acquisition is one of the largest in the history of the Israeli tech industry and stands as a major vote of confidence for both Waze and Israel’s startup scene at large.

These days, the Waze guys, who once reached out to Los Angeles eager for attention from any reporter, are mum. They are happily cloaked under Google’s strict no-press policy. “We are Google employees” now, says one of the app’s three founders over Facebook chat, “and we cannot speak to the press.”

Even without Google, Waze picked up a fast and loyal following in its first five to six years on the market: The app already boasts almost 50 million users in 190 countries and counting.

But no one will ever love Waze quite as fiercely as Israel.

[Related: What is it with Israelis and high tech?]

The buzz of the billion-dollar sale could be felt last week through the summer heat in Tel Aviv and environs, where Waze has long been regarded a national treasure — the top of the class in a nation of 1,000 startups. “Congratulations, you have reached your destination,” cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a reported phone call to Waze’s founders on the night of the sale.

“The Israeli people feel that they have some part in this huge success story,” said Izhar Shay, head of Israel operations at venture capital firm Canaan Partners. “We were the test group. We were the first users of an international breakthrough project, and we were part of the reason why Waze was so successful.”

The local market may only be about 7 million strong — a shortcoming that some say has slowed the overall progress of consumer-oriented invention in Israel — but it’s famously hands-on.

“By nature, people here are happy to try out new technologies, new concepts, new ideas — especially if they’re introduced by Israelis,” said Shay. “When Waze started, everybody knew somebody at Waze. So if people had bugs or issues with something that didn’t work properly, they would pick up the phone and call to yell at somebody at Waze.”

There have been local concerns, over the years, that large foreign companies are harvesting many of the best Israeli business ideas at an unripe age. But industry analysts who spoke with the Jewish Journal argued that the Waze buyout, which reportedly includes an agreement to keep Waze’s headquarters in Israel for at least the next three years, is the best possible scenario for a local company looking to go global.

Gil Ben-Artzy, co-founder of UpWest Labs — a training program in Silicon Valley for Israeli startups — called the sale a natural and smart evolution for Waze, and a “beacon” for other Israeli entrepreneurs.

“I find it hard to accuse somebody who sold their company for over $1 billion of selling too early,” said Jonathan Medved, head of Israeli crowd-funding venture OurCrowd.

Waze “fought like a lion to keep its development in the country,” Medved said. “The fact that these guys showed that you can fight that battle and win, and still sell your company for a good price, means that everybody’s going to try to do it.”

Up until now, Google Maps has been a dirty word in Israel; everyone wants to support the home team, plus Waze appeals to the Israeli nature to jump into the conversation, so the app has become extremely accurate due to all the input. But the two companies’ new all-star collaboration has now set the tech blogs on fire with speculation on the future possibilities of online mapping.

One thing they all can agree on: Waze’s secret weapon in a world clamoring with startups — and undoubtedly one of Google’s top reasons for scooping it up — has always been its devoted army of Wazers, who together helped the app reach the critical “viral” stage by telling all their friends and helping chart new territory within Waze’s virtual map system.

In combining their strengths — manual and social-media mapping, respectively — Google and Waze have hit such a sweet spot in the online map market that Southern California-based interest group Consumer Watchdog has even expressed concern that the duo might become a monopoly.

Facebook and Apple, who were also rumored bidders in the race for Waze, can’t be too happy about the new superpower.

“When you are driving in your car and you’re using Waze … you’re stuck in traffic, and all you have is this small screen in front of you that delivers the most important news to you,” Israeli investor Shay explained. “Now Google has access to our hearts while we are at a very significant part of our day, and we have nowhere to go.”

Israeli techies and investors are also touting the Waze acquisition as a ribbon-cutting of sorts for the new and exciting “consumer-oriented” frontier of Israeli innovation.

In the past, the country has been known more for its security software, semiconductors and other business-to-business (read: boring) technology. 

Waze is the polar opposite — a people’s product to the core. With its cutesy icons and game-like elements — including swords and badges for those drivers who submit warnings about “objects in the road,” police stakeouts, etc. — the app has proven as addicting as any Farmville or Angry Birds, only loads more useful. For the Waze addict, a commute is no longer complete without the soothing voice of Waze’s token she-bot, coaxing her customer through each lurch and turn.

To be sure, the app has had its detractors. Some traffic-safety advocates have worried that Waze’s highly interactive, video-game-like experience can prevent drivers from paying attention to the real-life road in front of them. The company has responded by installing voice-command and motion-sensor functions, as well as a keyboard lock for when the vehicle is moving — although drivers can easily override the latter by telling Waze that they are in the passenger’s seat. Last week, New York Magazine blogger Kevin Roose wrote in a concerned post on the acquisition: “As Google considers adding revenue-generating features like local advertising to Waze’s already-packed interface, it may raise the question: How much information is too much for drivers to handle safely?”

Yet, for Waze’s defenders, the proof is in its adaptability — and with Google’s latest infusion of cash, the app will no doubt keep adapting to meet user demands. 

Consumer-oriented innovation “requires a certain aesthetic understanding, and a certain design excellence” that Israel hasn’t necessarily been known for in the past, said Mick Weinstein, a longtime tech writer based in Jerusalem. “And that’s part of what’s so wonderful about Waze, is the user experience.”

In the wake of Google’s winning bid, Oren Hod, co-founder of video creation marketplace VeedMe, which connects videographers with prospective clients, said startups like his are catching Waze fever.

“I think [the sale] gave hope to some entrepreneurs and Israeli startups that are not super technology-oriented … to make it big in the U.S. market,” said Hod.

Local and international investors, too, are apt to be inspired by Google’s big move, said Shay — and “we should expect to see additional votes of confidence in Israeli startups as a result.”

Medved added that he has “never seen a time when there have been more good-quality Israeli startups that are really attracting worldwide attention — I think it’s a golden age.”

Waze, for one, doesn’t need the press anymore, nor the hasbara. As Google’s gorgeous Tel Aviv campus buzzes with new life and Waze enjoys its hard-earned spot on top of the world in Ra’anana, it begins to sound superfluous — even old-fashioned — to rave about Israel’s “Silicon Wadi” as if it were a niche or an underdog.

Why did Israel’s promising electric car maker fail?


It was supposed to be the car of the future, a near-silent, battery-powered vehicle that would wean the West off its dependence on Middle Eastern oil and save the environment in the process.

And an Israeli company seemed destined to build it.

Better Place, founded in 2007 by the exuberantly confident entrepreneur Shai Agassi, was trumpeted as the king of Israeli startups, a company that would keep the air clean and the streets quiet while saving money for its users.

Six years and more than $850 million in venture capital later, the dream lies in tatters.

On May 26, Better Place declared bankruptcy, its management transferred to a liquidator and the future of its 38 battery switching stations in Israel thrown into peril. Thousands of vehicles built specifically for the company’s network sit unsold in lots, their future uncertain.

“We stand by the original vision as formulated by Shai Agassi of creating a green alternative that would lessen our dependence on highly polluting transportation technologies,” said a statement from the company’s board of directors. “The technical challenges we overcame successfully, but the other obstacles we were not able to overcome, despite the massive effort and resources that were deployed to that end.”

Better Place had raised hopes that someone had finally figured out how to bring an electric vehicle into mass usage. The company appeared to have hit on an innovative solution to problems that had long bedeviled electric car makers: limited range, lengthy recharge times and consumer reluctance to shell out big money for an experimental technology.

The company adopted a model similar to the cell phone industry: Drivers would pay a monthly fee for access to a network of stations where they could swap batteries in about the amount of time it would take to fill a tank with gasoline. Customers also could charge their cars at home for free.

Agassi was the face of the company, a relentless booster who was named to several lists of the world’s most influential people. But what is arguably the highest-profile flop in a country legendary for successful startups comes as no surprise, those familiar with the company’s operations say.

Former employees, customers and industry experts paint a picture of a company that grew too big, too fast, built a car too expensive and impractical, and chafed under management with a penchant for burning through cash.

“I don’t think Better Place failed due to a mistake in technology,” said Sam Solomon, a venture capitalist and the chairman of Mobideo Technologies, which sold charge-station software to Better Place. “It ran too fast with too much. They did not get enough of a critical mass in a single market in order to demonstrate success.”

The company’s downward spiral began last year; Better Place lost more than $450 million in 2012. Agassi was ousted as CEO in October, and the company would go through two more chief executives before falling under control of a state-appointed liquidator.

Israel was the company’s principal market, its system seemingly well suited to a country where most drivers stay within a densely populated central region and the price of gas is high.

Investors believed in Agassi’s vision, buoying him with $850 million in funding. Even before the Israeli venture launched, Agassi had started a second network in Denmark and was planning others — in Australia, the Netherlands, China, Japan and the United States, in San Francisco and Hawaii.

Solomon said it was Agassi’s first and possibly biggest mistake, that the company should have focused on Israel before going global.

“What he needed to do was focus on a small core success,” said Solomon, who drives a Better Place car. “He basically ran it like a big company when he had to run it like a lean startup. It was way over-expanded. He was trying to run too many projects at once.”

Agassi exuded confidence, predicting that by 2010 there would be 100,000 Better Place cars on the road. The actual number turned out to be zero. The first charging station was opened in 2008, but the cars, manufactured by the French company Renault but sold by Better Place, were not available for purchase until 2012. And instead of building a compact car meant to travel short distances, Better Place offered only a family sedan.

“They needed a smaller car built for cities, a cheaper car,” said Yoav Kaveh, an automotive columnist for Haaretz.

Better Place sold fewer than 1,000 cars in Israel. And when sales hadn’t picked up by the end of 2012, the board cut spending and replaced Agassi, who is not speaking to the media.

But one of his defenders, former Better Place director of policy Yariv Nornberg, said Israel could have done more to help the venture get off the ground by providing tax credits for electric car drivers. Denmark offers a $40,000 tax break to promote electric cars.

“We could have expected better from the public interest,” Nornberg said. “Things would have looked different if there was more help for the user.”

Better Place’s 38 switching stations in Israel may close by June, but some customers say they’ll still happily drive their cars, which they say provide a cleaner, quieter and smoother ride. Without the stations, they will have to charge their cars at home.

“The service I’ve had up until now makes it a complete replacement for a petrol car,” said Brian Thomas, who bought his car a year ago. “It’s so quiet and fast and nice to drive.”

Despite the setback, Nornberg still sees a bright future for the electric car industry. Better Place, he says, was ahead of if its time. And even though it failed commercially, it succeeded in getting battery-powered rubber to meet the road.

“It’s not about buying the gadget,” he said. “It’s another means of transportation that’s better for the general public.

“The dream is not over. It’s only the beginning.”

Report: Talks between Waze and Facebook break down


Talks between an Israeli technology firm and Facebook reportedly broke down over the Israeli company’s insistence on staying in the country.

The navigation company Waze had been in talks to be acquired by Facebook for $1 billion. But the negotiations reportedly broke down over Waze officials’ stipulation that the company’s managers and employees remain in their Raanana, Israel headquarters instead of relocating to Menlo Park, Calif.

The report of the breakdown in talks was reported Wednesday by the website AllThingsD, citing sources close to the deal.

Neither Waze, a free downloadable navigation app with more than 34 million subscribers, nor Facebook has publicly addressed reports of a breakdown in negotiations.

Waze reportedly is also in talks with Google and Apple.

Seaport battle looms as Israel plans new competition


Israel is betting its economic future on high-tech exports but faces a low-tech bottleneck in state-owned seaports subject to work stoppages and slowdowns because of the enormous strength of their unions.

All that may be about to change.

The government, for years unwilling to risk a confrontation that could paralyse trade given that 99 percent of exports and imports are transported by ship, last month pledged to end the monopolies of the two main ports of Ashdod and Haifa.

By introducing private piers to compete with the two ports, service would improve and prices would drop across the board, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

The port unions — possibly the most powerful in the country with just 2,400 workers earning double the average public sector salary — are likely to be severely weakened and may have to make concessions or face layoffs.

At a time when the middle class is squeezed by slow economic growth and high costs, there is little sympathy for their plight among average Israelis, let alone businessmen.

“Labour unions in the ports are very strong, very belligerent, very egotistical and are using their control of a key state property against the state,” said Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.

The unions declined to speak with Reuters for this article and referred questions to the umbrella Histadrut labour federation.

But in a rare television interview in January, the head of the Ashdod union Alon Hassan defended the role of collective bargaining and the right to strike, protected by law, and said the port workers were misunderstood.

“I have no criminal background, and sadly, they point at me in the streets like some mafioso,” he told Israel's Channel 10.

“I see and hear and read that on the outside they don't like us, the port workers, and me specifically. That they paint me as an extortionist, a problematic person. Something I am not.”

The unions will not budge, he said: “I am protecting the workers' agreements that have been signed for tens of years. Fanatically. I am not open to unilateral attempts to breach such agreements.”

Cranes at the port of Haifa. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Articulating the government's position, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said simply: “Let there be war.”

NETANYAHU'S MANDATE

Netanyahu was reelected in January with a mandate to do whatever it takes to fix the moribund economy, which grew 3.2 percent in 2012, its slowest pace in three years. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis staged unprecedented nationwide protests in mid-2011 over high housing costs and soaring prices.

Netanyahu has placed the blame for the high cost of living on monopolies and cartels that prevent competition and began cracking down, starting with the country's most vital services.

On April 21 the government approved an open skies deal that liberalises aviation between Israel and Europe and is expected to bring in more foreign airlines and lower air fares. A two-day strike at flag carrier El Al and two smaller Israeli airlines ended with the government agreeing to pay a higher portion of the airlines' security costs.

Car importers and television operators are also in Netanyahu's sights.

Few groups wield as much power as the port workers, as gatekeepers for Israel's international commerce, however.

The Manufacturers Association of Israel said the country lost 25 million shekels ($7 million) directly and tens of millions more indirectly in a dispute at Ashdod port in April.

The workers, who held a 10-day slowdown in protest at a new rule requiring port navigators to stay on site throughout their shift even at quiet times, forced 32 cargo ships to wait hours off the coast.

Five ships were eventually redirected to Haifa about 80 miles (130 km) to the north and five others simply “took off”, the manufacturers' group said.

OLD FOES

Netanyahu has faced off with the port workers before. A decade ago, when the ports were run by a single government-owned company, ships wanting to dock in Israel were delayed an average of 17.4 hours, according to government statistics.

Then finance minister, Netanyahu in 2005 pushed through a reform that broke the ports into three units and a separate managing body called the Israel Ports Co, all still government-owned. The unions stopped work for one month before agreeing to the change.

The government at the time made clear this was considered only the first step toward total privatisation of the port system and two years later, Israel Shipyards began operating a small private port on a floating dock in Haifa.

Service has since improved. Container vessels in 2012 waited on average 3.7 hours to dock in Haifa, which handled 24 million tonnes, and 6.5 hours in Ashdod, which received 19.5 million tonnes. Israel Shipyards handled another 1.3 million tonnes.

But the wait time is still high by international standards.

Containers at the port of Haifa. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

“In most ports in world, the quays wait for the vessels and not the vessels wait for the quays. So anything above zero would not be acceptable,” Dov Frohlinger, chief operating officer of Israel Ports Co, told Reuters.

“What will happen to the waiting time in the next five to six years as cargo grows?”

Rafi Danieli, chief executive of Israel's biggest shipping company Zim, agreed the situation was substandard.

“In central and efficient ports in the world you work according to windows. You know exactly when to arrive and when to enter … In Israel, less so,” he said.

PROTECT THE WORKERS

In February, the state sold the rights to manage and operate the small Red Sea port of Eilat, which handles just 5 percent of the country's sea trade. Israeli firm Papo Maritime paid 120 million shekels for a 15-year deal, and it has the option to pay 105 million shekels more for an extra 10 years.

But in an example of the inflexibility of the system, negotiators had to reach an agreement with every one of the port's 120 workers, a government official told Reuters. Papo Maritime was the only bidder to hang on to the end.

Shortly after Eilat was privatised, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz outlined the rest of the plan: “Opposite each port, a private, competing pier must be built.”

The plans to build the piers, which will cost a little more than 4 billion shekels each, is awaiting final government approval. But Meir Shamra, who heads the Finance Ministry's privatisation unit, said the government was determined to make it happen.

Although no talks are currently underway, preliminary checks showed investors will come when the time is right, he said.

Avi Edri, who represents the port unions among the 800,000 public sector and other workers at the Histadrut federation, said his constituency “would never let it (competing private ports) happen”.

The unions want to explore the idea of forming a private company in which workers could own a minority stake, which would give them an incentive not to strike, Edri told Reuters. Shamra said the government might be open to the idea.

But the right to strike must remain inviolate, Edri said.

“Even if they gave a million shekels to each worker, the right to strike, or the right to unionise, or the right to protest is holy,” he said. “It is above all the money in the world.”

A worker sits as a crane unloads containers from a ship at the port of Haifa. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

$1 = 3.65 shekels. Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Sonya Hepinstall

Apple to open third research center in Israel


Apple will open its third research and development center in Israel.

The tech giant's new center will open later this year in Raanana's industrial zone, the Israeli business daily Globes reported, but no official date has been set.

Apple will bring aboard some 150 employees from Texas Instruments, whose Israel branch suffered major layoffs several weeks ago.

The website Next Web had reported that Intel was offering “healthy compensation packages” to lure engineers and nearly spoiled Apple's plan to open the Raanana site.

Apple opened an R&D center last year in Haifa and also acquired the Herzliya-based flash memory developer Anobit.

Tens of millions of hackers target Israel government Web sites


More than 44 million hacking attempts have been made on Israeli government web sites since Wednesday when Israel began its Gaza air strikes, the government said on Sunday.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said just one hacking attempt was successful on a site he did not want to name, but it was up and running after 10 minutes of downtime.

Typically, there are a few hundred hacking attempts a day on Israeli sites, the ministry said.

Attempts on defence-related sites have been the highest, while 10 million attempts have been made on the site of Israel's president, 7 million on the Foreign Ministry and 3 million on the site of the prime minister.

Screenshot from Groupon.co.il which was hacked by Pakistani hackers.

A ministry spokesman said while the attacks have come from around the world, most have been from Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“The ministry's computer division will continue to block the millions of cyber attacks,” Steinitz said. “We are enjoying the fruits of our investment in recent years in developing computerised defence systems.”

Steinitz has instructed his ministry to operate in emergency mode to counter attempts to undermine government sites.

Both sides in the Gaza conflict, but particularly Israel, are embracing the social media as one of their tools of warfare. The Israeli Defense Force has established a presence on nearly every platform available while Palestinian militants are active on Twitter.

“The war is taking place on three fronts. The first is physical, the second is on the world of social networks and the third is cyber,” said Carmela Avner, Israel's chief information officer.

Last month, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said cyberspace is the battlefield of the future, with attackers already going after banks and other financial systems. U.S. banks have been under sustained attack by suspected Iranian hackers thought to be responding to economic sanctions aimed at forcing Tehran to negotiate over its nuclear program.

Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Stephen Powell

Qualcomm acquires Israeli start-up for $150 million


San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. acquired the Israeli chip manufacturer start-up DesignArt Networks for more than $150 million.

The Israeli company, located in Raanana, is considered a leader in the design of modems and small communication cells for cellular base stations and high-speed wireless backhaul infrastructure.

“DesignArt and its products will both enhance and accelerate our initiatives to drive increased capacity and coverage in mobile networks,” Qualcomm President Craig Barratt said in a statement. “Operators can significantly improve user experience across residential, enterprise and outdoor networks given the greater network efficiencies derived by implementing small cells and heterogeneous networks.”

The sale, which was completed last week, is Qualcomm’s second acquisition in Israel following the buyout of the mobile web company iSkoot in 2010, Yahoo Finance reported.

DesignArt specializes in developing data-centric mobile radio access networks coupled with highly integrated system-on-chip technology.

The deal will allow Qualcomm to offer new system-on-chip and mobile offerings, according to PT-News.org. It comes two months after another Israeli start-up, Face.com, was acquired by Facebook for more than $100 million.

Have an invention? Meet an investor in Israel


Israelis love to invent things. Last year, the number of patents granted to Israeli companies in medical instrumentation put it first globally in relation to population size and fourth in terms of number of patents. In relation to its population, Israel consistently ranks tops in the world for bio-pharma and life sciences patents.

So it made sense to inventor Israel Solodoch to put together an Israeli Patents Exhibition, the first of its kind, to take place in September at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds.

Solodoch has the ambitious goal of getting some 10,000 Israeli and foreign inventors, investors, patent attorneys, mechanical engineers and computer programmers in the same room to help get a whole lot of good ideas turned into actual products.

Solodoch, managing director of Nufar Natural Products, a Galilee-based company that creates alternative health products, said that the idea for the exhibition just struck him one day.

“It’s very important for inventors to meet investment people and not have to pursue them, because it’s very difficult to do that,” he said. “The purpose of this exhibition is to solve this difficulty through direct face-to-face contact with investors. They will be there together on equal footing.”

The Jewish Agency is a sponsor of the exhibition, and organizers are also inviting representatives of Israeli startup companies. “Perhaps with your new invention you can do business with a startup,” Solodoch suggested. “Sometimes startups already have investment money but get stuck developing their idea into a product, so they are looking for new ideas to get their product going.”

Inventor Israel Solodoch

From Drawing Board to Market

Solodoch will be displaying his own patent-pending water-saving tap, which can cut water consumption by up to 80 percent. He claims customers can expect to recoup the purchase price within a month.

This product is meant for a broader market than just drought-prone Israel. “The problem of water is global, because even if you have enough water, it takes a lot of energy to bring it to your home, and after it goes down the drain it causes environmental problems,” he pointed out.

Solodoch, 61, launched a Web site last year as a free publicity forum for inventors from Israel and other countries. In addition to the exposure, he hopes the site will lead to stronger commercial contacts between Israel and other countries.

Among the inventions featured on the site and expected to exhibit at the September event are TransBiodiesel’s method for producing natural fuel from crude oil and cooking oil; a product to prevent car tires from cracking or bursting; a 360-degree camera on top of a car to help drivers gain greater visibility; an Israeli iPhone app that helps users find a parking place in the city; and a hygienic, hands-free gadget for disposing of dog droppings.

Israel Patent Statistics

In 2009, when the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization recognized Israel as an international center for the search and testing of patents, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved more patents to Israeli inventors than to any other nation of the G-7 countries.

Since 2006, the Israeli Patent Office has handled an average 7,500 patent applications each year. In 2011, 57 percent of the applications were for mechanical inventions, 29 percent in chemistry and pharmaceuticals, and 14 percent in biotechnology.

Some 80 percent of these applications are typically filed by foreign entities, including hundreds by corporate giants Qualcomm and Hoffman-La Roche. The Weizmann Institute of Science accounts for the most applications per year of the Israeli filers, through its transfer tech company Yeda.

The bulk of Israeli inventors choose to file in other countries, especially the United States, Japan and Europe because of their huge customer market. Israelis filed 7,082 international patents from 2002 through 2007, or one annual patent for every 5,295 people.

What is patentable? According to the Israel Patent Office, “An invention, whether a product or a process in any field of technology, which is new and useful, can be used industrially and involves an inventive step, is a patentable invention.” Discoveries of natural substances, new species of plants or animals, and human medical treatments cannot be patented.

For more information about the Patents Exhibition, visit http://www.eng.nufar.co.il/PAGE60.asp.

U.S., Israel developed Flame computer virus, according to anonymous Western officials


The United States and Israel jointly developed the Flame computer virus that collected intelligence to help slow Iran’s nuclear program, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, citing anonymous Western officials.

The so-called Flame malware aimed to map Iran’s computer networks and monitor computers of Iranian officials, the newspaper said. It was designed to provide intelligence to help in a cyber campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, involving the National Security Agency, the CIA and Israel’s military, the Post said.

The cyber campaign against Iran’s nuclear program has included the use of another computer virus called Stuxnet that caused malfunctions in Iran’s nuclear enrichment equipment, the newspaper said.

Current and former U.S. and Western national security officials confirmed to Reuters that the United States played a role in creating the Flame virus.

Since Flame was an intelligence “collection” virus rather than a cyberwarfare program to sabotage computer systems, it required less-stringent U.S. legal and policy review than any U.S. involvement in offensive cyberwarfare efforts, experts told Reuters.

The CIA, NSA, Pentagon, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

Flame is the most complex computer spying program ever discovered.

Two leading computer security firms – Kaspersky Lab and Symantec Corp – have linked some of the software code in the Flame virus to the Stuxnet computer virus, which was widely believed to have been used by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program. (Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Philip Barbara)

Jewish group provides Israeli technology to East Africa


Jewish Heart for Africa is now serving 250,000 people in East Africa with Israeli technologies.

The New York-based organization announced the milestone in conjunction with the expected completion of its 57th project later this month. Founded in 2008 by Sivan Borowich Ya’ari, Jewish Heart for Africa has used Israeli solar and agricultural technologies to assist rural villages in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.

“In these villages, solar technology isn’t an alternative energy source, it’s the only energy source,“Ya’ari said in a statement. “Powering a refrigerator, or even a light bulb, can save lives.”

Israel began offering solar technology know-how to Africa as early as 1960, when a team of African scientists visited the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.

Jewish Heart for Africa announced its goal of doubling the number of people it serves within the next two years.

From start-up nation to ‘scale-up’ nation


Most are accustomed to calling Israel a “start-up nation,” following the 2009 book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer titled as such. Jonathan Medved, however, is focused on the possibility of a “scale-up” nation.

“The next step is to scale up from start-ups to big global companies…to grow Israel’s companies is by focusing on solving big global problems,” says Medved, CEO of mobile software platform provider Vringo, Inc.

Medved—one of Israel’s leading serial entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, who made aliyah in the 1990s and now lives in Jerusalem—spoke to the Israel Business Forum at a gathering high above Times Square in New York City earlier this month.

In Israel, he says, “The culture of risk, of immigrants, of informality, the discipline of the army, even tolerance for failure, creates an unprecedented, unequaled atmosphere. The world is starting to understand that Israel is the place to come to—outside of Silicon Valley—for technical start-ups.” Israel provides a “dense” center for innovation, according to Medved, who called the country “start-up central.”

Medved’s story is iconic in the world of high tech. Starting by working out of a garage in Jerusalem, this entrepreneur has co-founded more than 60 Israeli high-tech firms. He writes about Israeli technological developments and is a member of the board of Israel21c.  He speaks about Israel’s technological and economic contributions to America and the world in venues as diverse as AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), CUFI (Christians United For Israel), and numerous industry conferences.

Noting “this bedrock of warmth and support” and “unshakable” alliance between Israel and America, Medved says the two nations are “incredibly productive and dynamic countries that lead the world in innovation and in technology.”

Medved says that when people are asked about how often they touch Israeli technology, some scratch their heads and say, “I don’t do much with Israeli technology.”

Wrong, says the Vringo CEO.

“Each and every one of us is touching Israeli technology every single day, dozens of times—in computers, instant messages, cell phones, voice mail, flash memory,” Medved says. “Israeli innovation is making the world we live in exciting and dynamic and changing reality… This great alliance between [America and Israel] doesn’t get enough attention. That’s what I am talking about tonight.”

“There is no single major American high tech company—whether it’s Cisco or Broadcom or Microsoft or Google or anybody—who doesn’t do just enormous work in Israel,” he continues. “Samsung, the Korean operation, is now in Israel focused on sourcing Israeli technology.”

Innovation starts early in the lives of Israelis, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) instills values of competition and selectivity. “Our kids start competing before the end of high school—not to get into an Ivy League school but to get into, excuse the phrase, an Ivy League unit,” says Medved. After such special programs, “they’re ready for bear,” he says.

“Our army is very entrepreneurial—very much part of our strategic thinking,” Medved says.

Israel is creating jobs in America, Medved explains, citing companies such as Given Imaging in Georgia, Amdocs in Missouri and Netafim and Bright Source in California. Medved says virtually no American high-tech company is without an Israeli component. Microsoft just opened two new Israeli facilities, in Tel Aviv and Ra’anana.

The next step for Israel, Medved reiterates, is to “go from start-up nation to the scale-up nation.”

“Companies of size are being built In Israel,” he says. “I think it’s a great thing that we are selling these companies. [Sales] serve as a conduit for future purchases on the international market. 

Medved notes that Israeli-developed products are appearing in unexpected places. Zoran chips, for example, are in virtually every consumer electronics product, and more Americans are taking medication produced by Teva Pharmaceuticals than that of any other producer in the country. He also highlights “unrivaled” Israeli water technology, including the reverse osmosis process invented at Ben-Gurion University.

“By 2014,” says Medved, “all drinking water in Israel will come from the sea.”

Medved admits, however, that “there are storm clouds” and problems to solve, such as the education dilemma in Israel—increasing numbers of students but no increase in faculty, underfunded universities, and a continuing brain drain among the most crucial.

JointMedia News Service asked Medved about investors’ reactions to political upheaval in the Middle East, as well as the impact of the possibilities of war or terrorist activity in Israel and nearby. He suggests that investors are discounting these risks.

“In technology, most investors are not thinking about it,” he says. “What’s crazy is that Israelis live with this…it’s weird, though Israel is perceived as unsafe, tourism numbers are through the roof. We have to do what we have to do to build the country. Investment builds psychological resilience.”

“It’s a great time in Israel,” he concludes. “Tourism is booming, the economic crisis appears past.”

Google Street View in Israel to go online


Google’s Street View in Israel will go online next week.

The project, which will feature 3-D images of the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and other attractions in Israel such as the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth and the Ramon Crater, will be launched with a ceremony in Tel Aviv on April 22, Israel’s business daily Globes reported.

Israel’s Justice Ministry in approving the project set several conditions on Google Street View, including the right for Israelis to request further blurring of residences and license plates. Israeli officials reportedly had been concerned that terrorists would use the service to plan attacks in Israel.

The Google cars and tricycles, fitted with 360-degree cameras to take panoramic images, began collecting the images last September.

Google Street View, an online mapping tool that provides a 3-D view of buildings, landmarks and streets, is available in 30 countries.

Israeli female scientist is top young researcher


JERUSALEM — She’s young, smart and aims to help treat life-threatening diseases.

Naama Geva-Zatorsky, 34, is among a growing group of Israeli women gaining recognition for their contributions to scientific research.

The Weizmann Institute biologist was in Paris last month to accept the International UNESCO L’Oreal Prize for Women in Science. Dubbed “Europe’s top young researcher” by the prize committee, she received a two-year, $40,000 fellowship for her postdoctoral work at Harvard University.

The selection committee cited the “excellence and the originality of her work.”

Geva-Zatorsky’s research focuses on probiotics, which are commonly known as “good bacteria” and have the potential to treat a variety of diseases.

Geva-Zatorsky, who holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in systems biology, believes there is room for more research on the potential benefits of probiotics. 

Her lab work has focused on the “good” microbes that live in the human intestines and protect our bodies by stimulating the immune system. Geva-Zatorsky will use her award to continue investigating what leads the bacterial molecule, known as polysaccharide A (PSA), to react this way.  

“There are 10 times more bacteria than human cells in the body, and I’m learning how do we interact with them and what the impact is on our health,” she said in a phone interview from Brookline, Mass., where she has been living since September with her husband, Amnon Zatorsky, and their two sons, Yonatan, 5, and Uri, 2.  

Despite the growing popularity of probiotics in an array of products — think kefir, a dairy product made of goat’s milk and fermented grains, or the trendy tea-based drink kombucha — both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority say that most claims made about probiotic products are unproven.

“There’s really a lot more that can be studied,” she said, noting that researchers already know that probiotics can be used to treat inflammatory bowel disease and now are investigating whether microbacteria can inoculate multiple sclerosis, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.

Additionally, Geva-Zatorsky said, certain bacteria can make humans develop more fat cells. Someday, she said, researchers may be able to create a pill to help obese people lose weight.

The same bacteria affect emotions, she said, and eventually may be used to treat depression.

Once her postdoctoral work is completed, Geva-Zatorsky plans to return to Israel to set up her own research team to probe how these bacteria can treat a myriad of diseases.

Weizmann biophysics professor Zvi Kam believes Geva-Zatorsky’s determination will carry her far. 

Noting that experiments are tedious and often fail, Kam said in an e-mail that the young scientist “never complained, never was let down, and never gave up. Her optimistic spirit and joy of doing science was never broken by the tough reality.”

Geva-Zatorsky’s success is unusual in Israel, given the dearth of women working in the fields of science and engineering. 

Despite Israel’s emphasis on research and development, a 2008 report by the European Commission on Gender Equality pointed out Israel’s low proportion of female researchers in higher education — 25 percent — compared to the 35 percent average found among European Union member countries. 

Those numbers combined with a highly publicized incident recently involving Channa Maayan, a Hebrew University professor who received an award but was told by Israel’s acting health minister, who is Charedi Orthodox, that a male would have to accept it for her. The incident outraged and re-energized women in the scientific community to speak out about their important role as researchers.

There are glimmers of light, however, for female scientific researchers. Geva-Zatorsky was among 10 women last year who received a Weizmann Institute of Science Women in Science Award. And she sees momentum at Israeli universities to increase the numbers of women in the field. 

She hopes that she can pave the way for others.

“I encourage women to be brave and ask questions,” Geva-Zatorsky said.

Geva-Zatorsky also said that gender bias alone is not the only reason that women are less inclined to do scientific research. 

In Israel, many believe that those who want to pursue academic careers should do research abroad, she said, where they can gain skills that will enable them to be better scientists at home.
Geva-Zatorsky said that’s more difficult for women, who are still expected to be the primary child rearers. 

The women who complete their doctorates are typically older than in other countries, she said, having first completed their military service and then started families. 

“This is why fellowships and awards that encourage women scientists to move are important, and also it helps if, mentally, people believe in us and that people would like us to go abroad and get new skills,” she said.

Geva-Zatorsky, who grew up in Moshav Ometz, a small cooperative village in central Israel, said her parents “nourished her curiosity and passion.”  

At 22, she arrived at Tel Aviv University and decided to study chemistry and biology.

For her doctorate, she studied how cancer cells respond to drugs and therapies. 

With a longtime passion for the arts — she studied ballet until she was 18 — Geva-Zatorsky also helped to organize an exhibition at Weizmann called “The Beauty of Science.” 

She praises her family as well as her husband for their strong support.

“They believed in me and pushed me forward,” she said. “There have been moments of self doubt, but they give me encouragement.”

Israeli-built robots shoot for U.S. competition


Forward Omri Casspi made the leap from Israel to the National Basketball Association in 2009, but the latest Israeli hoopsters seeking to compete on American soil aren’t human.

Earlier this month, several thousand spectators watched student-built robots from across Israel square off for two days on a custom-sized basketball court at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena.

Dozens of high school teams built their own robots for a chance to represent Israel in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championship, to be held at St. Louis’s Edward Jones Convention Center from April 25-28. This year’s St. Louis-bound teams include Team Elysium from Maccabim-Reut-Modiin’s Mor High School, Team Orbit from Binyamina’s ORT High School, and Raptor Force Engineering from Jim Elliot High School in Lodi, Calif.

FIRST is a worldwide non-profit that encourages students to explore and develop their abilities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines in a fun and supportive environment. Founded in 1989 by technologist and Segway inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST currently has branches in five countries—Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico and the U.S.—with over 250,000 school-age children and 68,000 adult team mentors participating annually in competitive events.

Six weeks ahead of the regional final in Tel Aviv, 46 teams of high school students and their adult mentors were tasked with using their knowledge of science and engineering principles to build game-play robots. The student-built robots were required to have the following basketball-related capabilities: shooting free-throws; gathering rebounds to convert field goals; and attempting to balance between one and three robots on seesaws placed in the middle of the court.

During the season-ending playoffs, teams had to take things one step further and forge alliances with two partner teams—a process that resembled a schoolyard kickball draft.

Kamen—whose father, well-known American Jewish comic illustrator Jack Kamen, designed the FIRST logo—was a highly visible figure in this year’s regional competition in Israel. Wearing a bright red Hawaiian shirt, the younger Kamen served as a referee and an English-language game announcer during the two-day event.

Among the robots at the competition, one standout presence was a bright pink robot developed by an all-girls team called “Ladies FIRST,” from Beersheba’s Ulpana Amit religious high school. Sponsored by Beersheba Municipality and Ben-Gurion University’s jointly run INBAL Project (which encourages teenage girls to pursue studies and careers in science and engineering), the team of plucky young women from the Negev were excited to make the final round.

“We are the first and only all-girls team to the join the competition,” said team captain Tal-Or Wartzmann, amidst the raucous cheers of her teammates. “We girls set up the team through our own efforts. The girls came together, and we found corporate sponsors and got [Beersheba] city hall and Ben-Gurion University to join the effort.”

Not all of the fun belonged to the teenagers. Also attending the two-day event were local political figures and business leaders in both Israeli and American industry, including Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai, Bank Hapoalim Chairman Yair Serussi and FIRST Israel co-founder Josh Weston.

“The mayor views the scientific disciplines as an important field of study and [believes] that any initiative that succeeds in challenging the youth and developing their capacity for advanced thought is an interesting and welcome initiative,” Huldai’s office wrote in an email to JointMedia News Service.

Tel Aviv City Hall, Huldai added, is “pushing forward a strategic effort towards solidifying its standing as the Silicon Valley for firms outside of the United States.”

FIRST Israel certainly has appeared on the radar of young technology aficionados outside the country. Two U.S.-based teams from Christian high schools located in Lodi, Calif., and Marshall, Va., chose to compete in this year’s regional championship.

“Our team mentor has been talking about coming to this competition a couple years now and this is the first time we’ve actually had enough money to make the trip,” said 17-year-old Fresta Valley High School senior Christian Berryman. “We are, like, famous here because we are one of two teams from America. Everyone comes up and shakes our hands. It’s very cool!”

The changing face of Israel’s war on terrorists


If Israel has its way, this is how future conflicts with Gaza-based terrorists will unfold: Israeli aircraft launch surgical strikes on rocket launchers; terrorist leaders are assassinated as necessary; Israeli civilians along the southern frontier are protected by advanced technology that shoots enemy rockets out of the sky; and the world, preoccupied with other matters, is too distracted to object.

The clashes last weekend weekend provide a glimpse of what this brave new world of war craft might look like. They were precipitated by the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) bombing of a car that carried Zuhair Qaisi, leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the Gaza Strip, and another top PRC terrorist released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.

As Israeli leaders expected, Islamist terrorist organizations responded with a barrage of mortar shells, Qassam rockets and Grad missiles aimed at the million or so Israelis living within firing range of Gaza. But Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system performed admirably, foiling dozens of deadly hits and providing Israel with cover to go after terrorists it considers valuable targets.

Israel also has been able to act decisively without causing widespread carnage and inviting a broader retaliation. As of March 12, Israel Air Force strikes had resulted in few civilian deaths among the more than 20 Palestinians killed — most of the casualties were members of terror groups. And with the world largely distracted by the violence in Syria and a looming confrontation with Iran, it seems that Israel’s leaders viewed this as an opportune moment to strike.

“The Americans are busy with presidential elections; Syria is involved in a civil war, which means that its proxy in Lebanon — Hezbollah — has been weakened; and Egypt is dependent on the U.S. and is in no position to do anything,” said professor Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “Most of the world would be relieved that Israel is tied down in Gaza and not planning an attack on Iran.”

On the Palestinian side, a different set of considerations is driving Hamas, the controlling power in Gaza, to refrain from taking an active part in the attacks against Israel and confronting more extremist organizations.

Hamas is keen to show it can ensure quiet in Gaza and avoid provoking Israel, but it also wants to preserve its position with Gaza’s young and radicalized population by avoiding a clash with the PRC and Islamic Jihad. Both groups are so-called muqawama, or rejectionist, terror groups, funded and backed by Iran, and oppose what they see as Hamas’ “pragmatic” approach. They advocate a commitment to violent struggle against Israel.

“Hamas is in transformation, moving away from its old alliance with Iran and Syria, and attempting to align itself with Sunni states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Ehud Yaari of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Hamas has a vested interest in showing that it is capable of maintaining stability in Gaza.”

The decision to pursue Qaisi was driven by the IDF’s belief that he was in the process of planning a terrorist attack from the Sinai Peninsula, a swath of land measuring 23,000 square miles that is only nominally under Egyptian control. Qaisi already had succeeded in launching such an attack, last August, which left eight Israelis dead. The ensuing fighting along the border also claimed the lives of three Egyptian soldiers, prompting thousands to storm Israel’s embassy and souring relations between Jerusalem and Cairo.

Avoiding such an eventuality appears to be shared on the opposite side of the border. Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime has been replaced with a parliament controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood — an Islamist organization with close ties to Hamas — might be compelled to react in the face of widespread civilian deaths in Gaza, Yaari said. But given the country’s relative instability and lack of clear leadership, all factions of the country’s government would like to avoid a Gaza crisis and a further deterioration in relations with Israel.

Egypt’s intelligence chief, Murad Muafi, is playing a major role as a liaison between Hamas and Israel to bring about a cease-fire in Gaza.

Israel’s ability to act narrowly in Gaza — avoiding the threat of an Egyptian retaliation while reducing the likelihood of high civilian casualties that would have generated intense pressure for a wide-scale assault — was enabled by the technological wizardry behind Iron Dome, a potential game-changer in Israel’s continuing struggle against cross-border terrorism, even if it leaves the region’s underlying dynamics unchanged.

The technology, first deployed in southern Israel in March 2011, is capable of downing rockets with a range of between 2.5 and 43 miles. In the latest round of clashes, it has intercepted more than 90 percent of incoming rockets, according to the Jerusalem Post, up from 75 percent a year ago. So far, only one Israeli civilian has been seriously wounded — a 40-year-old worker from Thailand who was hit by shrapnel.

The much-reduced risk of civilian casualties on the Israeli side protects the political leadership from pressure to undertake a full-scale assault on Gaza, as happened during Operation Cast Lead, the 22-day military incursion into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that began in December 2008 and left 1,166 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

“Under the circumstances,” said Yoram Schweitzer, a terrorism expert at the Institute for National Security Studies, “when the chance arose to take out Qaisi, we took advantage of it.”

eBay to expand activity in Israel


eBay is expanding its activity in Israel.

The Internet consumer company said it will unite its two activity centers in Netanya and Tel Aviv into a development center, and will expand the center by recruiting computer engineers, industrial and management engineers, and information system engineers, Ynet reported Monday.

eBay employs more than 200 workers in Israel. The new Israeli development center will focus on building catalogues, creating information on products and developing tools for social commerce aimed at allowing collective purchases and sharing the buying process with other users, according to Ynet.

Last year eBay bought the Israeli startup The Gifts Project, which developed an application for online group gifting.

In addition to five development centers in the United States, eBay has centers in India and China.

Hail to the geek


The real heroes of our age are pencil protector geeks. They sit at home, behind their keyboards, determining the rules of the game that you and I live by—and we trust them to do so. They love toys. They love games. They enjoy battle. They are at the forefront of the cyber war that is enveloping the world.

And then there are the wannabes.

Worms. Viruses. They made headline news and were front page stories. Now come the hackers, banks, stock exchanges, airlines, private facebook pages. Nothing is sacred and nothing is safe.

Most hackers are just an inconvenience. Some of the damage they do can be serious and they must be found and punished for their actions. But the average computer pranksters are called ‘script kiddies’ by serious hackers. The reason for the term is that they only follow the directions of hacking. They use tools found on line for free. They do not buy, build or create software to hack. They hate to pay for anything. They hack for the fun of it. They often hack for the irritation they give and the glory they get from their friends. They are hacker groupies.

So far, most of the hacking that disables servers—and frightens most people with a credit card—has been nothing more than a minor inconveniences. A self proclaimed Saudi hacker called OxOmar was said to have stolen 400,000 Israeli credit cards and identification numbers. In the end it was 20,000 and he actually only gathered them from existing sites that had collected the information from merchants who have very poor security. OxOmar did not hack the Israeli banks. And getting private information on people is equivalent to hacking kindergarden, not post graduate work.

Israel’s Tel Aviv Stock Exchange web site was hacked as well as Israel national air line ELAL. Once again, a very important distinction must be made. It is the web sites that were hit, not the data banks. Yes, they should have been better protected but web sites are full of content, not data—they are not the system work that houses the sensitive material. As one analyst described it, web sites are like a bulletin board with lots of post-its. Someone just came and took down your material and put up his own insulting and graphic messages. The really important and valuable material stayed in the safe.

Script kiddie hacking is a form of vandalism akin to graffiti. There’s no thievery and no other invasion like viruses and worms, occurs.

There are professional and highly paid hackers who have the backing of industry and governments. They are the IT geeks tasked with the responsibility of developing software to access vaults. The technology they develop cost millions of dollars to develop, if not more, and enemy hackers who use them are stealing much more than credit card identities.

They real job of these professionals is to make certain that the national electric grid is safe and that the communication networks are secure.

They work quietly and behind the scenes. They are not headline grabbers like OxOmar the Saudi hacker whose stated goal is to make Israel hurt. OxOmar says that he is a hacker and this is what he knows and how he can achieve his goal. He has joined forces with a group of pro-Palestinian hackers called Nightmare and they have begun their attack.

A day does not go by when an Israeli website is not assaulted. Now Israel’s allies have also been targeted and are becoming victims of these attacks. Azerbaijan has been attacked. The material posted by these hackers on the hacked Azerbaijanian websites emphasize that Azerbaijan has chosen to be friendly with Israel and the United States. Azerbaijan has responded by saying that some people are jealous of our success. And that is exactly correct.

It was the level of amateurism displayed by their enemies that so annoyed many Israeli hackers who, under normal circumstances, would have left things be and considered these hacking episodes as nothing more than children’s games. But Nightmare and OxOmar have announced that they are unstoppable and that they can and will wreak havoc on Israel making life miserable for the Israeli society unless Israel apologizes for a slew of historical events.

Israel has to hit the hackers back. And they will hit back. The Israelis, by virtue of the situation, will take it up a notch. Israeli professionals will have to search for these anti-Israel amateurs and destroy their ability to hack. They will dismantle their systems and they must unmask them. Anonymity is what hackers need more than anything else. And then Israel will prosecute them.

There is no doubt that warfare is changing. But there is still a need to defend and to intimidate. Countries like the United States and Israel must make it clear that it is not worth the price of breaking into their computer systems.

True hacking is a game for grown-ups. True hacking save lives and saves money, it doesn’t hurt unknowing and uninvolved individuals for the sake of saying ‘Look at me, see what I can do.’

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).

Cornell, Technion joining for top tech campus


Cornell University and The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology will partner to create a world-class applied science and engineering campus in New York City.

The NYC Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island is set to combine the strengths of both institutions.

Cornell President David Skorton and Technion President Peretz Lavie made the announcement Sunday.

“By joining forces in this groundbreaking venture, our two great universities will employ our demonstrated expertise, experience and track record of transforming new ideas into solutions to create the global avenues of economic opportunity and tech leadership that Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg envisions,” Skorton said.

An integral part of the campus will be the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, a 50-50 collaboration between the two universities to form a graduate program to focus on bringing products quickly to the market.

The partners will be joining in a full-scale campus—not a satellite of either school—to open in 2012, initially in either leased space or existing Cornell facilities in New York City. The NYC Tech Campus is planned to grow to more than 2 million square feet on Roosevelt Island, accommodating nearly 2,000 graduate students and 250 faculty, as well as visitors and corporate researchers. Cornell and the Technion will collaborate in teaching, educating and advising students.

The universities’ proposal will be presented to the city by Oct. 28.

Chinese billionaire invests $30 million in Israeli startup


An Israeli startup company has received a $30 million investment from China’s richest man.

Billionaire Li Ka Shing has invested in the navigation technology firm Waze, which will put the money into supporting its application’s more than 7 million drivers and launch a traffic-reporting platform in China, the Israeli business daily Gloves reported.

The Waze free mobile application helps drivers find the shortest route to their destination and provides data on traffic conditions provided by its users. The company also has a social network allowing drivers to report directly to each other on road conditions. Its users live in 45 countries.

Other shareholders include Microsoft and Qualcomm.

Video courtesy of WazeGPS1.

Should frozen sperm be used to create posthumous grandchildren?


Last fall, 27-year-old Ohad Ben-Yaakov was injured in an accident at his part-time job, and he died after two weeks in a coma. Ben-Yaakov wasn’t married, nor was he in a relationship. No woman was pregnant with his child.

Nevertheless, his devastated parents believe it’s not too late for them to become the grandparents of his offspring. And because they live in Israel, the world capital of in-vitro fertilization and a country that regularly pushes the envelope on reproductive technologies, they might get their wish.

Mali and Dudi Ben-Yaakov, upon learning that their son was brain dead, had his sperm extracted. Now they are awaiting the decision of Israel’s attorney general on whether they will be permitted to find a woman to bear their grandchild.

“If we were entitled to donate the organs of our son, why are we not entitled to make use of his sperm in order to bring offspring to the world?” they asked in Haaretz.

If their petition succeeds, it will be the latest legal and cultural innovation in a country that already has embraced the idea of posthumous parenthood and come closer than any other to acknowledging a right to grandparenthood.

It’s not surprising that Israel, a society that is at once rooted in ancient faith and deeply invested in cutting-edge technology, has pioneered futuristic forms of procreation. The biblical emphasis on fruitfulness, when compounded by the legacy of the Holocaust and the demographic issues shaping the Middle East, have made Israeli society and public policy exceptionally pro-natalist.

The country is aggressive in pushing the boundaries of reproductive technology. It has the world’s highest IVF rate: According to a 2006 paper prepared for the Knesset, 1,800 treatment cycles are performed each year per million people, compared to 240 in the United States. Its specialists are among the best on earth, and health insurance there covers unlimited IVF attempts up to the birth of two live children. Israel was the first country in the world to legalize surrogate-mother agreements.

Meanwhile, in a country where almost every family sees its children join the military, there’s a hunger for anything that might salve the anguish of losing a son or daughter. Posthumous reproduction can seem like one more weapon in the ancient Jewish struggle for ongoing existence.

Irit Rosenblum, the feminist lawyer representing the Ben-Yaakov family, says that “It’s an idea of continuation. It’s a dream. Magic.”

Some feminists and scholars, though, are troubled by Israel’s culture of boundary-pushing reproductive technology. Quite aside from the issue of postmortem fatherhood, the combination of state subsidies and intense pressure to have children can lead infertile Israeli women to endure many more IVF attempts than they might elsewhere.

Whereas women in the United States might undergo several cycles, says Wendy Chavkin, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, “Israel is the only place I know of where people can have 17,” although no one knows the long-term effects of such treatment on a woman’s body.

Then there is the psychological toll.

“It used to be, God forbid you were infertile, it was sad and terrible and tragic, but you came to terms with it,” says Susan Martha Kahn, a Harvard anthropologist and author of “Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel.” “Now you can never come to terms with it. There’s no resolution. Some of these women go through round after round, 12, 15 rounds of IVF, and it doesn’t work. That is the eclipse of an entire young life spent trying to get pregnant.”

Creating children from the sperm of the dead adds further philosophical complexity to the tangle of issues around IVF. When must tragedy be accepted instead of combated with the full arsenal of our technology? Who gets to decide?

“Where we are with reproductive technologies is a result of the fact that we have refused to accept infertility as a fact,” says Vardit Ravitsky, an Israeli-born assistant professor in the bioethics programs at the University of Montreal faculty of medicine. “Today, the idea that I have a right to have a genetic child is much more accepted than in the past. To extend that one generation to genetic grandchildren maybe is not that farfetched.”

Ravitsky was a participant in the Israeli Ministry of Justice discussions that led to the country’s guidelines on posthumous reproduction issued in 2003. The guidelines were notable for allowing a dead man’s wife or partner to access his sperm as long as he didn’t leave explicit instructions to the contrary.

“This notion of presumed consent, that we can assume that a man would want to have genetic children after his death, that was really pushing the envelope at the time in comparison with other countries,” says Ravitsky. But the ministry refused to allow a man’s mother or father similar access, concluding that parents have no legal standing regarding their children’s fertility, “[n]ot in their lifetime, and certainly not when they are dead.”

For years Rosenblum, the Ben-Yaakovs’ lawyer, has been fighting to give bereaved parents in Israel the power that the guidelines denied them.

In 2001, she campaigned for the Israeli army to adopt what she called a biological will, offering soldiers the option of freezing their sperm or eggs in order to see their lineage continue in the event of their death. Though the army rejected the idea, it received media attention.

Then, one night the following year, Rosenblum got a phone call from a hysterical woman. Her son, 19-year-old Keivan Cohen, had just been killed by a sniper in Gaza. His mother wanted the hospital to save his sperm, which can survive for 72 hours after death. The woman had read about Rosenblum and begged for her help.

Rosenblum rushed to file an affidavit and succeeded in having the young man’s sperm extracted.

Through a newspaper ad, Cohen’s parents found a woman who was planning on becoming a single mother and who liked the ideas of using a known donor and also of ensuring that her baby would have supportive grandparents. But with no written instructions from Cohen, the hospital keeping his sperm refused to release it. Following a long legal battle, a Tel Aviv court in 2007 ruled in his family’s favor.

So far, the potential mother’s IVF treatments have not been successful, though attempts are ongoing. But Rosenblum retains an almost giddy faith in the ability of technology to triumph over cruelties of nature and fate.

Speaking of Cohen’s mother, she says, “No psychiatrist can help this kind of a woman to recover from the loss of her son. But this is giving a new hope. It’s unbelievable. It brings her back to life.”

Of course, there is something unsettling in this desire to create a child to compensate for the loss of another. Many of our earliest and our most enduring myths warn against the hubristic human desire to transcend the forces of life and death.

On a practical level, if posthumous reproduction and a right to grandparenthood become common, they could create intolerable pressure on surviving partners, who might feel obliged to bear a dead man’s children rather than start a new life with a new husband or boyfriend.

Ravitsky cites a case in which the partner and parents of a deceased man went together to access his sperm and “the medical team had the impression that the young woman was being pressured.” The woman eventually decided not to go through with it, but others might not be strong enough to say no, whatever their own doubts.

At the same time, new reproductive innovations have a sinister sci-fi air at first, until they are folded into everyday life. A 1974 Chicago Tribune article about what were then called test-tube babies asked, “Is 1984 already here?” and suggested that the technology could lead to the “creation of a slave race.”

These days, IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies are routine and unremarkable. Few find it shocking when single women seek sperm donors to parent alone. If the babies born to such women have two sets of grandparents to welcome them into the world, that would make their lives more traditional rather than less.

Ravitsky says she is troubled by the idea of a society in which “whenever a young man loses his life in his 20s, the expectation is that his parents will use his sperm to create genetic grandchildren.”

But she also sees cases where the interests of would-be single mothers and of heartsick parents align. During the discussion leading to the Ministry of Justice guidelines, those who had lost their children came forward to plead for the right to grandparenthood.

“I remember really being struck by an elderly father who lost his son in the army who spoke before the committee with tears in his eyes and talked about what it would mean to him to have grandchildren, and the grief he had about the fact that at the time his son died, the technique wasn’t there to extract sperm,” Ravitsky says. “I remember thinking we should think outside the box here. It’s too simple to just say no.”

Reprinted from Tabletmag.com, a new read on Jewish life.

iPad comes to Israel


The iPad is now officially available in Israel.

Apple’s official Israeli representative iDigital and Office Depot began selling the devices Tuesday, more than eight months after it became available in the United States and throughout the world, Israel’s business daily Globes reported.

In late November, Apple released a Hebrew-language interface and keyboard.

Israelis have been importing the device since its launch, though they were confiscated for the first two weeks following its release over concerns that the iPad did not meet Israel’s wireless specifications and could place a strain on the wireless Internet in Israel.

Yahoo! to acquire Israeli start-up


Yahoo! has agreed to purchase an Israeli start-up company reportedly for more than $50 million.

Dapper Inc., which was founded in 2006, has developed technology to create interactive display ads and target the personalized ads at Internet users.

While neither Yahoo! nor Dapper released the financial terms of the deal, Israeli media are citing sources as saying the deal is for about $50 million.

Dapper’s development center in Ramat Gan will become Yahoo!‘s development center in Israel, the Israeli business daily Globes reported. The Internet giant also has a research center in Haifa.

Israel’s clean tech advances attract foreign investors’ green


TEL AVIV (JTA) — From cutting-edge geothermal power deep underground to wind turbines and solar panels capturing energy from the sky above, foreign investors are pouring money into Israel’s growing clean tech sector.

And it’s not just Jews.

“Every day I get calls from people asking for opportunities to invest in clean technologies in Israel,” said Michael Granoff, president of the New York-based Maniv Energy Capital and an investor in Project Better Place, the company working to make Israel a testing ground for an electric car.

“That to me is extremely encouraging,” he said. “I believe nothing will determine Israel’s prosperity more than the degree to which it is a leader in innovation around sustainability.”

Clean tech, a catch-all term for emerging technologies focused on renewable and more efficient energy consumption, is soaring in Israel. A wave of new start-ups, academic research projects and new venture capital funds are focusing on the industry, and multinational corporations such as the Coca-Cola Co. and General Electric are scouting out new technologies here.

Fueling the interest in environmentally friendly clean-tech solutions are skyrocketing oil prices, growing concerns about global warming and a push for sustainable solutions to the world’s energy problems.

Investing in Israel’s expertise may not only make good business sense but benefit the worldwide quest for cleaner, greener energy alternatives.

It also may constitute an opportunity to bolster Israel’s international reputation by linking the Jewish state with green innovation.

Jonathan Shapira, a recent American law school graduate who writes a blog on clean-tech investment in Israel, says Diaspora Jews can play an essential role by becoming either consumers of or investors in Israeli technologies.

“Every Jewish family and institution should consider installing solar panels, rooftop wind turbines or energy efficient lighting developed in Israel,” he said. “This will lower their electricity bill, protect the environment, benefit the Israeli economy and help position Israel as a world leader in clean technology.”

The imperative for developing alternative energy sources is particularly acute for Israel because its enemies’ strength derives in large part from the world’s dependence on their oil resources.

“It really makes sense for reasons of economics, but there is also the issue that so much is at stake here,” said David Rosenblatt, the vice chairman of the board of a new solar power company near Eilat, Arava Power, which is headed by Yosef Abramowitz. “This is doing something for Israel’s national security, protecting its energy independence through green power.”

Rosenblatt, who also runs an investment fund in New York, where he lives, said his investment in Arava Power is a Jewish venture as well.

“This is about clean energy, but it’s also about Jewish roots and what I can do to express it and where I personally have value to add,” he told JTA.

In Herzliya, three American immigrants in their 30s have created the first venture capital firm to target the Israeli clean-tech market, Israel Cleantech Ventures. They recently raised $75 million for their debut fund, exceeding the $60 million they originally set out to raise.

Glen Schwaber, one of the firm’s partners, said enthusiasm among investors for Israeli clean tech reflects Israel’s growing reputation as a potential incubator for new technologies that is buoyed by the country’s high-tech success stories.

“Israel has a reputation for innovation and technology, and a mature venture capital environment along with a successful history in entrepreneurship,” Schwaber said. “The next logical place for the clean-tech investor after Silicon Valley and the Boston area is Israel.”

The Jewish state is beginning to capitalize on its experience in such fields as solar thermal technology, wastewater recycling and desalination. Until recently, Israel had the world’s only large-scale desalination plant, off the coast of Ashkelon. Now countries such as China are building them.

“Israel is a great country to beta test some of these new technologies because it is a microcosm of the world’s needs: shortages of water, a large transportation fleet on per-capita basis, and an abundance of solar energy potential,” said Schwaber, 38, who made aliyah from Boston.

Among Cleantech Ventures’ investors are some big names in Jewish philanthropy, including the families of Edgar Bronfman and Stacy Schusterman.

Schusterman, CEO of the Samson Investment Co., a private oil and gas company based in Tulsa, Okla., said she sees her investments in Israeli clean-tech ventures, including Israel’s electric car enterprise, as business, not philanthropy.

“This is a business venture,” she told JTA in a phone interview from Tulsa. “We saw this as an opportunity to leverage Israel’s deep intellectual capital in an area we see as a burgeoning worldwide industry, and by investing it we would have the opportunity to create a hedge against our base business.”

She added, “This is an area where Israel should excel, so as a Jew I have every reason to help make that happen.”

Last month, the city of Los Angeles signed an agreement with Kinrot Incubator, a company located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that helps entrepreneurs and researchers with water-based technological innovations.

The deal will enable Israeli start-up companies to use water and power facilities in Los Angeles for pilot projects and to conduct joint research with the University of California, Los Angeles on water projects.

Los Angeles is interested in using the Kinrot model to establish its own incubator for water-related technologies.

Assaf Barnea, Kinrot’s CEO, said that although the water market is not new, the hype over going green has given it a new shine in the eye of investors.

“They have now heard about it and want to be players,” he said. “There is huge hype but it’s not just hype. This is a market that is here to stay.”