Israel – the Innovation Hub in the Middle East

The Ambassador of Israel, H.E. Mordechai Rodgold, spoke with SOCIETY about how Israel evolved to a world leading innovation and technology hub.

You are Ambassador of Israel in Austria since November 2019. What are your goals for your term?

I am lucky to come to Austria at a time, when the relationship between Israel and Austria is very good and I see it as a challenge to make it even better. The cooperation between the leadership of both countries is excellent, as well as the contact between the civil societies. This is even more impressive regarding the complex history between our two people. Currently, we would like to focus on improving the cooperation between the civil societies in the fields of economy, innovation, technology and culture.

The Corona crisis – in some ways – also enhanced an even stronger cooperation between Israel and Austria. At the beginning of the crisis, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pointed out the risks of this virus for Europe and that it has to be taken very seriously. Indeed, Austria then was one of the first countries to react.

A couple of months after the outbreak of the pandemic, the figures of our two countries are much lower than others, which enables us to face exit strategies together. Therefore, we established a forum of nine countries called the “Smart Covid-19 management countries”, including Austria, Israel, Denmark, Norway, The Czech Republic, Greece, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. The Heads of Government of these nine countries hold meetings via video conferences, discussing the current situation. This opens also a way of exchanging best practices: bringing together experts from different fields and implementing best practices in the different countries. 

You are also accredited as Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the International Organizations here in Vienna. How important are these International Organizations and the dialogue they enable?

My workload as Ambassador is divided between bilateral work regarding Austria and my work for the International Organizations. Israel is very active within the International Organizations, contributing to industrial development, the fight against organized crime or outer space issues. With its long-lasting experience in innovation and technologies, Israel is acting as part of the international community, with the aim of contributing to build a better world.

Israel is famous for its tech and scientific branches and its contribution to these areas. How does the state enable these impressive achievements?

Over the years, Israel built up a kind of “ecosystem”, which works extremely well for promoting innovation and technology.

From a geographical point of view, we are quite a small country, with the approximate size of Lower Austria and a population of a bit more than nine million people. We did not have any natural resources and that is why we had to develop capabilities in other areas in order to build up an economy that can bring prosperity to the country. We did this while facing external threats, as we are living in a quite hostile environment. Furthermore, half of the land of Israel is desert and we have very little rain in the summer. All of these factors made it necessary for Israel to develop alternative strategies, for example in order to overcome water scarcity. We developed many technologies that enable us to have quite an efficient management in the areas of government, industry, transport, water supply or health services. As part of the before mentioned ecosystem, the public-private partnerships play a crucial role. The State supports investments by the private sector and especially invests in human capital. For decades now, Israel has one of the highest percentage of investments in R&D (Research & Development) and the highest number of high degree graduates in scientific fields. In these two areas, we are world leader. Investing in people and giving tools to the private sector to develop these capabilities are the key factors for a successful, sustainable and innovative economy.

The fight against Covid-19 requires an elaborate infrastructure for scientific research, especially in order to find a vaccination. Israel already made a big progress here. Which advantages has Israel in this regard?

Indeed, we already have the research infrastructure. Yet, another advantageous characteristic of Israel is the ability to adapt quickly to new situations and challenges. Many research institutions in Israel, as well as private companies, saw and see the Corona crisis as a new challenge that has to be dealt with immediately, since it is endangering human life. That is why they changed their priorities and put many resources in trying to be part of that worldwide effort to find both drugs to treat the Corona virus as well as a vaccination that can prevent the virus from spreading further.

Photo: SOCIETY/Pobaschnig