Rivlin at memorial for Shimon Peres
Rivlin at memorial for Shimon Peres Mark Neiman/GPO

President Reuven Rivlin this morning (Wednesday), addressed an event in memory of Israel’s Ninth President, the late Shimon Peres, held at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, with the participation of international and Israeli leaders in the fields of hi-tech and industry.

“It is hard to believe that a year has passed since we had to say goodbye to Shimon Peres. The man who made us believe that not time, nor vision, nor deed can be halted” began the President. “Shortly before he left us, we gathered here to inaugurate the center in his name, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. We talked about the huge benefits found in the State of Israel, the advantages that have made us an exceptional innovation lab exporting knowledge and expertise to the world, and which itself does not stop innovating.”

The President mentioned the memorandum of understanding to strengthen cooperation in the field of fin-tech, recently signed between Israel and Switzerland, the acquisition of Mobileye by Intel, cooperation between Israeli high-tech transport projects and vehicle manufacturer Skoda, which joined other international motor vehicle companies engaging in similar cooperation with Israel. “These are just some examples of the ways in which human capital – the most important resource of the State of Israel – has time and again proven to be a real force of nature in its might and capabilities,” said the President.

The President noted the importance of the manual labor which made Zionism into a state, and said, “Zionism brought with it the understanding that the state is built not just with the mind, but also with the hands. If we would truly want our national home to be built in reality and not just in spirit, we had to roll our sleeves up. So believed Zionism’s founding fathers. So we became farmers and builders, and established a manufacturing industry, led by a defense industry and a textile industry, industry that was for many years the pride of Israeli creativity – with body and mind.

“In the last decades, when the pursuit of excellence and the desire for knowledge resulted in wonderful ideas, the ability to implement these ideas dwindled. We returned to being intellectuals and less involved in manual labor. This gap can be seen clearly in the Bloomberg Index for Innovation,” said the President, and added, “According to the Index, this little Israel, is ranked in first place in the category of investment in research and development, and in the category of bringing together the researchers in the field, but is ranked much lower in its manufacturing capabilities, productivity, and in the level of its education system. We cannot allow ourselves to have such a gap,” he said, and stressed, “We must find a way to an answer with our own hands, hands that know how to implement the wonderful ideas that the Israeli mind knows how to create. These hands, these minds, are here. The Arab community, the ultra-Orthodox community, suffer under-representation in the high-tech industry, and today it is clear to most of us that this is the solution.”

The President referred to the data from research by the Office of the Chief Scientist, which recorded that the number of Arab students in the higher education system studying subjects relevant to the field of innovation rose by 60% between 2012 and 2016. He said, “This is an impressive figure by any measure, and alongside it we should also note the rise in the rate of Israeli Arab citizens employed in hi-tech, from 0.5% in 2008 to more than 4% in 2017. There have been small and great challenges in recent years, both in the areas of training and employment; an area in which the President's Office is also a partner through the Israeli Hope Initiative. The opening of new innovation centers aimed at the ultra-Orthodox community is one example, the work of this innovation center to integrate thousands of Arab technicians and engineers in the leading hi-tech companies is a further example, and they are not the only examples. But this is still not enough. Only this morning a study was published by the Chief Economist and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which shows again, in black and white, that integration into Israeli hi-tech is still a function of family background, socioeconomic status and locality of residence, rather than talent, ambition and hard work. We must change this picture. A clear and practical work plan is needed alongside a courageous vision and uncompromising implementation.”

The President spoke of the plan for hi-tech to encourage human capital, which was approved by the Government in January of this year, and said, “This is an important program that understands the reality, and understands that the burning need for engineers, programmers, and developers is nothing less than a national necessity. This is a program that understands we must invest in students in relevant fields, invest in training, and of course in placement – both in quality and in quantity. This is an important decision that must now be implemented, and it will succeed only if we come together, with determination, and with the joint leadership of all those for whom this country and its future are dear to them. And that includes all of us.”

The President concluded, “Everyone here today has a responsibility, a role, and an opportunity to make the Israeli innovation industry continue to be the pillar of fire before of the camp for many years to come,” and said, “This was the dream of my friend, Israel’s ninth President, Shimon Peres. This was his belief, and now it is in our hands.”

Also speaking at the event was President Peres’ son and Chair of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, Chemi Peres; social entrepreneur, Adi Altschuler; founder of Innovation Africa, Sivan Yaari; and Professor Hossam Haick of the Technion. Following this, there was a panel on the issue of Innovation and the Future, with the participation of Cisco CEO John Chambers, CEO of Check Point Gil Shwed, Orit Gadiesh Chair of management consulting firm Bain & Company; and Joe Schoendorf, Partner at Accel Partners.