Taking a look back on Israel…and taking a look forward

November 12, 2017 by Henry Benjamin
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There was a surprise opening to the address by former Australian Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma to guests at a JNF breakfast function in Sydney…”I am used to talking at events in Israel so you are free to keep eating and in fact keep talking to each other.”

Dave Sharma     Photo: Giselle Haber

Dave Sharma completed four years as ambassador in July and said he hoped guests at The Royal Motor Yacht Club in Point Piper  would not hold against him that Bob Carr had appointed him!

He has just returned to Australia from Israel where he attended the 100th anniversary of the battle of Beersheba and the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration mentioning that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had been there too…the first Australian Prime Minister to have visited Israel since John Howard in 1998.

He spoke about the newly-opened Anzac Museum in Beersheba saying it is “an immense piece of commemorative architecture…the vision of the mayor of Beersheba and JNF’s drive, dedication and effort to make this come about.  It will stand the test of time and is an amazing legacy to the relationship between our countries.”

Sharing some stories from his tour of duty he spoke about the time Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten were visiting Israel at the same time. Both are keen runners.  He said: “On a couple of times I went on a run with them. As can imagine, these two individuals are very competitive. One day we ran from the King David Hotel in Jerusalem around the walls of the old city and then decided to run up the Mount of Olives to catch the early morning view.” He described the run as being so steep that “my car stalled on it”. He stopped the two heavily breathing sweating competing politicians from getting into trouble by sending his fit deputy to run ahead and reach the top first.

He also told of the time when Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott were both in Israel at the same time to receive honorary doctorates one from Ben-Gurion University and the other from the Tel Aviv University. He mentioned the well-k own the animosity between the two and how he had to juggle his time so that neither knew he was with the other. He said: “I felt like a child of a broken marriage. Never talking about the father or the mother whenever  in one or the other’s presence.”

He changed his focus to business talking about the high-tech economy and startup economy of Israel and how Australia could both learn and benefit from it. He pointed out that the $5 billion venture capital Israel attracted in 2016 is the highest per capita in the world. There are Israeli  83 companies listed in the Nasdaq. Over three multinational companies have set up research and development centres in Israel. He pointed out Israeli companies had unlocked iPhones for the FBI, countered cyber attacks and being at the cutting edge of the technology for drivelesss cars. He added in the mix renewable energy and agriculture. saying “it’s a dynamic and innovative economy.”

One major development during Dave Sharma’s watch was the launch of the landing pad seventeen months ago which he described as offering entry points in Israel for Australian entrepreneurs . He said it was one of the achievements of which he is most proud. He referred to its ability to offer contacts and relationships. He said: “It has hosted  38 startups and four boot camps and has created hundreds of interactions between Australian and Israeli businesses. We will get dividends over the next few years.”

Dave Sharma said there are now 16 Israeli tech companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. ” We have cooperation happening with National Innovation Authority in Israel.”

He named the Commonwealth Bank, Telstra, Optus, Macquarie Bank and others as doing more and more in Israel. He said “It is important for the Australian economy to be like the Israeli one which is more attractive and more entrepreneurial. ”

Dave Sharma attributed Israel’s success to, among other factors, adversity. He added: “Israel is a small country surrounded by hostility, effectively a geopolitically island without natural resources.”

Referring to Israel’s need for compulsory military service. He commented: “You get a huge pool off highly-skilled people from the Israeli military. Many have an entrepreneurial ideas from their work in the IDF. And many develop talents appreciated from the Googles and the Microsofts and others.”

He believes that Israel’s youth want to become entrepreneurs as their dream position in the future.

The former ambassador highlighted the dreams of Israeli entrepreneurs are focused on the global markets whereas many Australians have more domestic ambitions. He added the Australian academic institutions are not an involved as the Israeli ones in seeing successful research and development get on the market.

“Innovation” is not a word heard as used it to be in Australia according to Dave Sharma. He believes it can be equated with job losses. But he would like to be back in the popular vocabulary again. He says in Israel innovation is a bipartisan project and that all levels of governments are involved with the commercial sectors. He says in Australia the system is much more fragmented.

He said: “Those of you who knew Israel in the early 1990s would know it is barely recognisable today economically.”

He finished off by saying that Israel now receive visitors from Australia  who at one time would have been put off by media values…corporates, investors, high-tech and others who now have an interest in Israel.

Dave Sharma said: “The more people look at Israel, the more people who travel to Israel, the people who see Israel  beyond the prism of Israel’s position in the regions, Israel’s conflicts with its neighbours and see Israel for what it is…a broad-ranging, multi-faceted fascinating country much like Australia.”

JNF CEO Dan Springer told the meeting of the mission to Israel and the launch if the Beersheba Museum.

JNF president Peter Smaller presented Ambassador Dave Sharma with a statuette of a mount Light Horseman.

Photos:  Giselle Haber












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