Still Waiting for a Miracle

"Start-Up Nation" frequently glosses over, minimizes or ignores less pleasant realities.

marco greenberg
Marco Greenberg
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marco greenberg
Marco Greenberg

"Start-Up Nation," the best-selling book about the country's successful high-tech sector, is like a fantasy-come-true for any Israel supporter. Packed with beating-the-odds stories of local business innovation, the book, published last fall, is so upbeat and inspiring that a reader could easily get the impression that, once it leaps over a few remaining hurdles, Israel will be well on its way to dethroning Silicon Valley as the world champion in technology and entrepreneurship.

As an unabashed "Israel propagandist" - someone who has worked for more than a decade with a range of government ministries, Israeli companies big and small, here and abroad, and as one who knows and respects many of the people mentioned and interviewed in the book - I should be the last person to argue with its success.

But something about "Start-Up Nation" bugs me, and it goes well beyond the petty jealousy of why I didn't write my own version of the book, and beat authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer to the punch.

Make no mistake about it: Senor and Singer's book is a must-read, and they should be congratulated for putting together the disparate pieces of the puzzle that explains Israel's sudden and unlikely rise in the world of business. Their synthesis of the work ethic, brainpower and sheer chutzpah of Israel's entrepreneurs is like reading a description of a "perfect storm" of creativity and achievement.

But there's another side to this story that, until it is acknowledged and properly addressed, will be the Achilles' heel of Israel's economic growth. It makes the book's subtitle, "The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle" seem premature at best, and reckless at worst.

My sense is that much of the romantic tale conveyed by the authors frequently glosses over, minimizes or ignores less pleasant realities.

Aside from references to a "brash" Israeli here and a "boondoggle" there, and a critical final chapter entitled "Threats" (which includes a host of last-minute caveats), the authors don't just drink up the sweet concoction they've been served up: They guzzle down the stories of the country's high-tech sector with the fervor of a 21-year-old at a bar who just became legal.

You don't have to be an economist (the comments of a brilliant truth-teller like Israeli economist Dan Ben-David are unfortunately pushed to the back of the book), to ask:

In truth, my larger concern is less with the book than the kind of cultural arrogance it reflects and might unwittingly increase. While most American and European businesspeople won't say it out loud, many of their Israeli counterparts already have the stereotypical reputation of being know-it-alls, unlikeable and difficult to deal with. Even when that's not the case, Israelis often unfortunately make a poor first impression, and in these days of information overload, there's no time or patience to peel back the skin of the sabra and get to know his or her inner sweetness.

It's not that I don't still love working with Israelis. I do. They're usually hyper-creative, fast moving, genuine and spontaneous. But until these and other intrinsic issues are acknowledged and seriously dealt with, we'll be waiting for the economic miracle for many years to come.

Marco Greenberg runs Thunder11, a marketing, PR and social media boutique based in New York City.

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