Watch: Exile, army and chutzpah - origins of the startup nation

Government Minister and former hi-tech innovator Naftali Bennett reveals the unique Israeli formula for success.

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Yoni Kempinski,

Startups at DLD Tel Aviv Digital Conference (file)
Startups at DLD Tel Aviv Digital Conference (file)
Miriam Alster/Flash 90

What is the secret of Israel's hi-tech success? 

Education Minister Naftali Bennett - who made his own fortune in Tel Aviv's "Silicon Wadi" - spilled the beans last week at the GO4Israel conference in Tel Aviv's Hilton Hotel last week.

The Jewish Home party leader attributed Israel's incredible accomplishments in the field to three key factors: the legacy of 2000 years of exile, the IDF and good old Israeli chutzpah.

Addressing the first element, Bennett noted the longstanding Jewish emphasis on education. Particularly since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jewish communities faced an uncertain existence in the Diaspora in the shadow of ethnic-cleansing, forced-conversion, expulsion and even genocide.

"When you know you might be expelled from your home in an hour or in a year, where do you invest your resources?" the minister asked rhetorically. "Do you invest it in land? Bad idea... You invest it in the brains of your children, because that's the one area that no one can take away."

"Jews for 2,000 years have been investing in education, in literacy... so we've had 2,000 years of working on our intellect, and then came back to Israel around 120 years ago," he continued, referring to the early days of modern political Zionism.

The second ingredient, he said, was the Israeli military; specifically, the uniquely Israeli emphasis on showing initiative and "getting the job done" no matter what.

Bennett described his own army experience as a young commander by way of example.

"At the age of 22 I was commanding 100 soldiers, and you had to get the job done, no one cared how you got the job done.

"That ethos, of getting things done one way or another... is brought into the hi tech arena" when Israelis leave the army, "and we get it done" there as well.

The final ingredient is chutzpah - which is also a double-edged sword.

"Chutzpah is a unique Israeli word which combines boldness, rudeness and having the nerve to do all of these things."

But he also warned of the "flip side" of such a mentality. "Usually young Israeli companies are not very good at long-term planning, that's not our forte. Ask for a five-year strategy you won't usually get a good one."

Of course, in the hi tech field five years is a very long time, so in truth investors are more concerned about the here and now in any event.








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