"Govt's policies will harm Israeli medicine and business"

Jeremy Levin  credit: Reuven Kopitchinski
Jeremy Levin credit: Reuven Kopitchinski

Former Teva CEO Jeremy Levin warns that major international corporations will be unable to do business with Israel.

As a Jew, an American and Israeli, someone who loves Israel, I write this opinion with a heavy heart. It is a plea to all segments of society in Israel to unite. Real leadership needs to step forward to avert what is coming in Israel.

Today we face the reality that the new government, if it act on its words (and if it’s new leaders act as they have done throughout their political lives), will destroy in the short term the basis of what made Israel and, in the longer term, will open many doors to Israel’s enemies.

This is not a theory but rather the most likely outcome of unfolding events and actions which are proposed by the new government in Israel.

Israel’s major asset is its human capital. Its world leading innovative industrial base was built over decades, fueled by an education system that was the envy of the world. Immigrants from Russia and elsewhere brought knowledge and expertise. Basic sciences, medicine, biology, engineering, mathematics, agronomy and so many other disciplines thrived. Israel’s prosperity has been built through contributions by all parts of its population. It’s men, its women, the Arab population (a quarter of the population), and its secular population (over half of the population), all were part of a knowledge based democratic and vibrant economy. Israel set an example not just for the Middle East, but also the world.

This extraordinary human capability, coupled with the fundamental commitment to build a democratic nation, served to bolster and strengthen the children who went to the IDF and other services, intent on serving Israel. These children became the soldiers, sailors and pilots that today form the backbone of the extraordinary army and intelligence services that hold back Israel’s enemies in Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. They do this because they are educated, highly trained, and profoundly motivated. Israel’s daughters and sons, parents and grandparents have work together in this endeavor since the founding of the state.

But if the statements of the new government are to be believed, that education system is now to be undermined. The education system is to be governed by those who state that they don’t believe in the very concepts of fact based science or even allowing women and men to study together.

With an education system gutted of these foundational aspects of innovation Israel will not just lose its innovative supremacy, over time it will strip its army’s ability to defeat the constantly changing threats the nation faces. The proposed policies will turn these children from highly educated and motivated warriors steeped in technology and intelligence, capable of defeating hugely superior enemies, to bullies and braggarts only able to suppress ill equipped enemies, women’s and children. And most certainly encourage the most talented to join the growing Israeli diaspora - lost to the country.

On the medical front, the education system that fostered top tier medicine will erode. Today one quarter of all Israeli doctors are Arab. Many are regarded as global leaders in medicine. Many more are pharmacists and nurses. The current education proposals and legislation to reduce the rights of Arabs in Israel will insure that this critical resource becomes increasingly disenfranchised and, again, many will leave the country. The quality of medical services for all Israelis will gradually erode.

On the legal front, it is proposed that the independent judiciary, a core and fundamental part of Israel’s strength, of the United States and of democracies around the world, will be removed. This proposed action is similar to the behavior of dictatorships around the world. It puts Israel in the company of such countries as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and Turkey. It will destroy confidence around the world in the Israeli legal system. And that will negatively impact how businesses, governments, global funds and international agencies will interact with Israel.

On the business front the issue is acute: the proposed new laws put Israel on a direct collision course with the mainstream businesses of America and Europe. It will be impossible for reputable international businesses to invest-in (or indeed to partner or trade with) Israeli businesses that comply with the proposed segregationist and discriminatory laws. These foreign companies are governed by social and legal obligations in their own countries which prohibit them from working with entities anywhere in the world including in Israel which adhere to laws which permit/require racial segregation, discriminate against women, seek to harm the LGBTQ community and other minorities.

Companies like Pfizer, Moderna, Novartis, J&J, AstraZeneca, Apple, Google and many others, have a multitude of places where they can chose to invest in innovation and grow businesses. They are all governed by clear legal and ethical guidelines that they adhere to scrupulously. They see in Israel a tiny market for their products but a huge opportunity to source innovation. In the near term, they will watch carefully how the new government enacts legislation and act according to what they see. They will not wait long if new laws are enacted to upend the legal system, and or bring in racial and other discriminatory legislation. Their shareholders (and indeed their employees) will not permit it. In the long term if as proposed the education system is destroyed, they will seek innovation elsewhere.

On the security front, businesses have been pragmatic to date. While US businesses largely view conflicts with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas as part of the justifiable battle against terrorism, and are risks they and many other foreign companies have chosen to take, few will see a massive conflagration on the West Bank, ignited by proposed legislation to restrict the rights of West Bank Palestinians, in a similar vein. They will see it as a war against Palestinians wagged by Jewish religious zealots. The statements and actions of the current Israeli cabinet members seem bent on that course of action. When and if that occurs, international companies will vote with their feet.

Lastly, on the social front, the relationship with America which has underpinned Israel since 1948 and strengthened since 1973, will erode. It is a relationship which to date is broadly supported by Jews across America. However, the majority of Jews in America do not relate to, or agree with, the values propounded by the new government. Indeed, many of them would have their status as Jews denied by the ultra-Orthodox theocracy that is coming into power in Israel.

While the US based ultra-orthodox community and the very extreme right wing of the US Jewish community will likely remain a bastion of support for the Israeli government, the vast majority of of US and diaspora Jews will increasingly separate from Israel.

Jews in America, and elsewhere are already becoming distant from modern Israel. Theirs is the image of the Israel of the post the Holocaust, one of a democratic and secular Israel, fighting for independence, exemplified by the victories of 1967 and 1973 and the miracles of the Start-up Nation, coupled with images of a vibrant social and tourist life in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the myriad other wonderful sites visited briefly by tourists.

That image of Israel will vanish as the full impact of the proposed laws unfold and the unwavering international Jewish support of Israel will fracture. That fracture has direct electoral and political consequences in the USA. The American electorate and their government does not need an Israel which is beset by racial conflict and governed by theocracy and misogyny. Why should America aid a country that endorses the policies proposed by the new Israeli government? These policies will erode voter support of Israel in the USA.

The corner Israel has turned offers only two road: one that values its core assets of human capital, its democratic roots, its engine of innovation and its independent judiciary. And the other that leads to bigoted theocracy more akin to those seen in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. America needs the former, but not the latter. The choice is in Benjamin Netanyahu’s hands.

The author, a former CEO of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, is  chairman and CEO of Ovid Therapeutics and chairman of Opthea and Gensaic. 

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 17, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Jeremy Levin  credit: Reuven Kopitchinski
Jeremy Levin credit: Reuven Kopitchinski
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