"We made Israel a high-tech power," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaims at every opportunity. There is no doubt that the Likud government has accompanied the big breakthrough of Israeli high tech in the past decade, with Israel becoming one of the largest and most important high-tech centers outside the US. With all due respect to the way that the government promoted the cybersecurity industry and is now trying to do similar things with artificial intelligence and quantum, however, there is a near-consensus that the advantageous position of Israeli high tech is unrelated to any particular government policy in the past 10-20 years. The industry developed from a government plan in the early 1990s, but Israeli institutions of higher learning, and especially the IDF technology units and the defense industries, were behind it. The mass immigration from the former Soviet Union also contributed to the industry.
There is a universal worldwide consensus that Israeli high tech is a success story on a global scale. Pardon the cliché, however, but "Wealth does not last forever" (Proverbs 27:24). Leading high-tech figures are constantly warning that Israel does not live in a vacuum, and that the price of an absence of planning and response to the industry's needs is liable to detract from Israel's competitiveness, especially in view of the trade war, massive investments in R&D in countries throughout the world, and a strong shekel making business in Israel less attractive.
The leading problem that has been disturbing industry leaders for a long time is the shortage of topnotch personnel. There is almost no CEO who has not complained about the intense competition for talent, the high salaries offered by global tech giants, and concern that in the absence of a national plan to ensure a continued supply of technologically trained graduates in the schools, the IDF, and the universities, Israel is liable to find itself in a fix.
Where the future is concerned, there is almost no doubt that in order to continue strengthening Israel's standing and to enable it to successfully withstand global competition, a long-term policy is needed: detailed plans not just for five years ahead, but for the next 10 and 20 years. It should include setting targets and allocating the resources necessary to achieve them on the scale of a national project, like the national projects in Israel's early days: projects enlisting all of the nation's good forces to build smart, clean, and beautiful cities that will keep local talents in Israel. Israel needs projects for attracting international investments that will foster major Israeli companies, not just startups for selling to the highest bidder, leaving only development centers here.
Less than 9% of business sector employees work in high tech, but the high-tech industry accounts for a healthy proportion of exports, and the Israeli economy depends on it. It is therefore necessary to make sure that this strength will be maintained. This is not confined to important questions being discussed by industrialists, such as incentives for multinationals, visas for foreign workers, and technological education. Some of the problems are more important than this, such as the state of the educational system, which suffers from a severe shortage of excellent teachers and incomplete computer infrastructure. One third of the schools do not enable students to learn computer science on the highest level.
Despite the importance and capability of the industry, assuming that the correct measures are taken, to improve the economic situation of many people, we received answers from only five political parties. What is disturbing is the fact that this does not concern only Israel's most important industry; it also affects the educational system, narrowing of social gaps, the state of the outlying areas, encouragement of business activity, and attracting foreign companies, the foreign currency market, etc. Politicians should be expected to take a greater interest in the economic issues involving everyone in Israel, including those who do not work in the high-tech industry.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 11, 2019
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