Dedication of Peres Centre for Peace and Innovation spotlights Israel-China cooperation

October 26, 2018 by Israel Kasnett -
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Former Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed the crowd by video at the grand opening of the Innovation Centre at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. Or did he?

Chemi Peres (second from left), Vice President of China Wang Qishan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu at the Israel-China Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Tel Aviv
Photo: Tomer Neuberg

Actually, the high-tech stunt was pulled off using Israeli AI technology combining his image, real voice and actual words that he had written. So started the dedication of the Innovation Center …

A component of the Prime Minister’s Israeli Innovation Summit 2018—the first part of which was held at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem—the dedication was held at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, a popular venue for large events, conferences and gatherings. The main speakers were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Vice President of the People’s Republic of China Wang Qishan; Chemi Peres, son of the late Shimon Peres; and Chinese billionaire and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma. In attendance, were family members, Peres Center staff and hundreds of other delegates, businessmen and guests.

With his usual grandfatherly and wise style, (AI) Peres said: “The future is made of the dreams of today. We must continue to work on developing the vision of tomorrow—not simply remembering the past. We have the power to create change and the opportunity to create an impact. People with no fantasy do not do fantastic things.”


Netanyahu usually reads from a printed speech, but when it comes to talking about innovation, he speaks from the heart. He reminisced about some of his conversations with Peres. “When he spoke about innovation and peace, his eyes shone, his eyes sparkled. He had tremendous confidence in the youth and genius of Israel. And this is where we saw completely eye to eye.”

Focusing on how innovation could contribute to the Middle East, the prime minister said the idea is that peace and innovation go together. “Innovation is an engine of peace—not just an engine of progress. There are quite a few of our neighbouring countries that reach out to Israel because of innovation. And they want our innovation for civilian reasons: water, health, IT and solar energy. They look around the world and see Israel as a hub of innovation that can offer a safer, better and longer life for their people. It’s a boon to peace.”

Netanyahu said that tourism is important as well, and turning to Qishan, joked that even 1 per cent of China visiting Israel would be great. Realizing that would mean 1,300,000 Chinese tourists, Netanyahu conceded that even one-tenth of 1 per cent would be wonderful—given that, currently, there simply isn’t enough room in Israel to host so many tourists at once.

“The most important thing I could say about Shimon,” said Netanyahu, “is that he had a grand vision for Israel. Israel is among the leading innovation nations in the world. I believe that by mid-century, maybe before, Shimon’s vision of the fruits of progress will change one society after another. The world is intimately connected to our ability to innovate. The future belongs to those who innovate. We are all here today to tell him ‘it’s happening and more will happen!’ ”

‘A lot in common and a lot to achieve’

Vice President Qishan then took the stage, emphasizing that “innovation is the driving force for human progress,” and nations should work to “spread the dividends of innovation through extensive global cooperation.”

“Israel is a country world-renown for innovation,” he acknowledged. “Between our countries, there is a lot in common and a lot to achieve through cooperation.”

Carice Witte, founder and executive director of SIGNAL, a nonprofit organization that works closely with senior Chinese and Israeli leaders to enhance strategic, diplomatic, cultural and economic relationships between both countries, told JNS that “Wang Qishan is President Xi Jinping’s closest friend and trusted confidant. Anywhere he sends Wang is an indication that it is of tremendous strategic importance. Appointing Wang the head of the innovation partnership between Israel and China is a clear sign of how important Israel is to China’s innovation and technology goals. China is in the process of upgrading its economy to automated production and the implementation of new technologies in a wide variety of fields.”

A video prepared by the conference emphasized how, in Israel, “the impossible needed to become possible. Israel went from reviving the Hebrew language to writing the language of coding.”

Chemi Peres said wistfully, “I wish my father was here with us today.”

He went on to say that “this is a special event for Israel and the world of innovation. With my father’s powerful words still resonating in our hearts, his vision for the centre was to be a window into tomorrow. He always said innovation should be used to make a better world. This is why, a few years ago, the Peres Center added the word innovation to our name.

“This is an age in which the strongest nations choose to rely on their mind, not on their might,” he continued. “The centre is the story of a transition from an old world to a new world. Israel was born as a dream from the vision of our founders; out of necessity, we innovated for agriculture, clean water, clean energy and for defence. Israel, the startup nation, was built on innovation from its very first days.”

Peres added that “we hope to see Israel serve as a meeting point between East and West. The future belongs to those who dream.”

‘Israel knows the greatest resource is the human mind’

But it was Jack Ma stole who the show. His flair for capturing the attention of a crowd was on full display as he delivered advice and peppered witticisms throughout his speech.

He said that when the IQ and EQ (Emotional Quotient) connect, when the brain and heart connect, knowledge and wisdom connect—that is innovation. But we need LQ. And that is love. And Israel has all of these.”

“Israel,” Ma said, “knows the greatest resource is not oil or gas, but the human mind. Israel innovated, not for itself, but for the world. And this is the exact LQ we need.”

“Most people innovate for success,” he noted, “but Israel innovates for survival. You have no diamonds, but you have a large diamond industry. You have no car industry, but you are a leader in car technology. You have no water, but you export vegetables to Europe.”

Ma conveyed a sense of integrity and the humility of a man who came from a humbling background. Instead of saying his wealth comes from the vast amount of money he earned, he said: “the wealth I have is having met so many great people in the world.”

He also proved slightly self-deprecating. “I know nothing about technology,” he admitted. “I am scared of technology. I was the first product tester of my company. I said if I could use it, then 80 per cent of people could use it,” he joked.

He declared innovative people to be believers—and maybe even crazy sometimes. “Crazy people don’t think they are crazy. They think other people are crazy.”

Ma warned that citizens across the globe are entering into a new world. “We are in the midst of a third technology revolution. The first technology revolution resulted in WWI. The second technology revolution ended in WW2. Now we are in the third technology revolution, but let’s not have WWIII. Let’s fight war, poverty and environmental issues.

In another moment of hilarity, Ma demonstrated how innovation often results in someone being upset, even if it’s for the greater good. He reminded the crowd that early basketball games were played with a ball going into an actual basket. After each successful shot, a man with a ladder would climb up to retrieve the ball. It took a few years until someone came up with the innovative idea to remove the bottom of the basket, thereby saving time and cancelling the need for a ladder.

Naturally, the game got a lot better, but the ladder guy was upset because he was now out of a job. That, declared Ma, is innovation.

Israel Kasnett

He also emphasized the need for governments to encourage and help small businesses. “Rely on young people. Rely on the small business,” Ma said. “Small is beautiful, and small is powerful. And so is Israel. Today is just a beginning.”

He described his philosophy as follows: “Today is difficult. Tomorrow is much more difficult. The day after is beautiful. Most people die tomorrow evening.”

As Netanyahu then got up to leave, he decided on a whim to ascend the stage again to respond to Ma’s entertaining, yet powerful words.

Turning to Ma, he said, “You said innovators are crazy, but they don’t think they’re crazy. Well, the greatest innovator in our history in modern times was Theodor Herzl. He came up with the crazy idea of a Jewish state and a Jewish economy. And he was met with derision primarily by his fellow Jews. They said he was crazy. Everyone seemed to be saying he was crazy, and Herzl thought to himself, ‘Maybe I am crazy.’ So he went to a famous psychologist, Max Nordau, who said, ‘You may very well be crazy, but if you are crazy, I am crazy, too!’

“We are all products of the vision of Herzl and Nordau,” concluded Netanyahu. “And we follow you, and we will be even crazier in the future!”

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