Following my meeting last week with Hillary Clinton in New York, we are now communicating intensely with the American administration to advance understandings that will set the political process in motion while preserving Israel’s vital interests – first and foremost, its security. This is my principal concern as Prime Minister and is the only consideration that guides me. If I accept a proposal from the US government, I will present it to the cabinet; I have no doubt that my colleagues will accept it.
Zerach Warhaftig also said, at another occasion: "I arrived late, so I will leave early." That is not going to happen today. I am enjoying every minute, especially having the opportunity to see some dear friends.
For instance, Minister of Science and Technology, Danny Hershkowitz. We met for the first time here, at the Department of Mathematics, at a conference you organized in memory of my uncle, Prof. Elisha Netanyahu, who was, I believe, one of your teachers. Yes, he taught me mathematics too, although I must say he had less success with me than he had with you.
I am pleased to see Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel, who tirelessly fights for young people. And the members of the prize committee, headed by Committee Chairman Professor Eugene Kandel, who helps me direct the economy and also helps me on this matter, which is one of the foundations of our economy. Thank you, Eugene.
And of course, Government Secretary Zvi Hauser, and Haifa’s Deputy Mayor Rami Levi, and Advisor to the Prime Minister Tammy Hauspeter, who had an important role in promoting concrete steps here.
I would especially like to thank our host, the President of the Technion, Professor Peretz Lavie. This is indeed a good location, for the reasons you mentioned and others, as there is still so much more room for entrepreneurship and innovation here.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the recipients of the prize and their families.
Who is the greatest Jewish entrepreneur?
In ancient times, it was Moses. In modern times, Herzl. Herzl, because he reached the conclusion that the Jewish problem had only one solution: mass exodus of Jews from the countries plagued with anti-Semitism, and gathering them in a state of their own.
As an entrepreneur, he had an idea, a dream. As an entrepreneur, he tried to sell his idea at a road show, as it’s called today. His road show went through Vienna, Budapest, Paris, London, Berlin, Istanbul and practically all the important capital cities of the eastern hemisphere.
He went from one investor to the next, visited the richest Jews and the greatest statesmen of the time: the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the German Emperor, and tried to convince them to raise money or provide support for his idea. It was not so successful, I must tell you. But when he did not succeed with the rich members of his own nation, or with the statesmen, he went directly to the masses and established an organization. He arranged financing. Bank Leumi, literally national bank, is one of the outcomes of his actions, and he established tools to propagate his idea.
Herzl’s idea, his insistence on turning his vision into reality, his plan into action – is what paved the way for the Balfour Declaration, for the establishment of Zionism. It actually jump-started Zionism, and naturally, the establishment of the State of Israel.
Herzl wrote in his book Altneuland: "Dreams are not so different from deeds as some may think. All the deeds of men are only dreams at first. And in the end, their deeds dissolve." (trans. Lotta Levensohn)
And that, in a nutshell, is the essence of entrepreneurship.
Every country and every society must encourage entrepreneurship and promote innovation and creativity if they care about their future. Otherwise, they might tread water, and treading water eventually means going back, because the world is moving forward.
Israel has been blessed with a supply of people who initiate, dream and create, which is a great blessing. Jews and non-Jews are producing patents. The Jewish and Israeli mind is producing patents. But in order for it to continue doing so, we must provide it with the right environment.
This environment includes, first of all, institutions like the Technion, institutions of higher education. So we are now investing the large sum of NIS 7 billion, spread out over six years to re-launch higher education in Israel, including teaching and research positions. We are going to develop dozens of centers of excellence. We inaugurated four this year to "reverse the brain drain," as they’re calling it, although the brain usually comes with the rest of the body. We are going to bring back Israeli technicians and scientists and engineers who are currently abroad and connect them to their able colleagues here.
We are investing almost half a billion shekels in this. And it is important, because it allows us to create hubs of knowledge and excellence that establish Israel’s position as a global center of technology and innovation.
I am pleased. I have seen the positive responses by Israelis in the best universities around the world. Just look at the names, look at the centers and you’ll realize that we are assembling a very large productive force.
Innovation starts from the bottom, and we are now launching a program to introduce technological tools into elementary schools, starting in the north and south of Israel. We are investing NIS 450 million in it, and later on we will also deploy the program all over the country to give our children the tools they need to be a part of this new world.
I must tell you that education alone, or investing money in institutions, will not be enough, as education must also teach innovation, must have that same spark of originality that changes an existing situation, and we have seen that today – people who identify opportunities to do the same thing a different way or to do something entirely new: to see something in your mind’s eye that no one else can see, and turn it into reality. In other words, education is both a resource and a path, but even this is not enough. It is insufficient because in order for entrepreneurship to flourish, another component is required. I can provide a simple proof: the most educated population in the world was in the former Soviet Union. They had mathematicians and physicists, the greatest scientists in the world, and they hardly did anything with it. Some of our colleagues here can testify to that, because entrepreneurship needs an element beyond education. Simply stated, it needs a free market.
A free market is essential, for it is only in an atmosphere of openness, dynamism and free enterprise, that the various initiatives can develop and move forward. Entrepreneurship without a free market is a wingless bird.
I’ve given one example, but I think the rise of the West over the last 500 years, its immense leap forward, is a result of education that became more and more open, combined with economies that became more and more open. In contrast, the huge Eastern conglomerates remained bounded by conservative thought, dogmas that did not allow for individual ideas to break through and of course, class fixing that did not allow people to fully utilize their capabilities.
What is happening today is that their economies are opening up to entrepreneurship, to people who are trying to realize their ideas. All of a sudden, we see people making their way out of a poverty that was assumed to be historic and unchangeable. It is the fastest exit from poverty, affecting hundreds of millions of people within a decade or two at the most.
The minute you release the stopper, as soon as you let the young people, or the not so young, to think, to dream, to initiate, they take their entire society on a ride with them. This is the freedom to dream, to try, to fail – because there is no success without failure. If everything is guaranteed in advance, there are no successes. Failure and success are the keys to the prosperity of peoples and states.
We prove that here in Israel every day. I think we have seen impressive expressions of this here today. Our development is the result of collective action companied with a great burst of individual creative forces over the last few decades. This combination of advancing the general public and an individual’s freedom to be enterprising is fundamental to our strength and our future. That is the reason I decided to initiate the Prime Minister’s Award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, as an expression of my own commitment and that of my government to the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that characterizes large segments of Israeli society.
Today we have seen young men and women, people from the periphery of Israel. I would like to delete that word from our lexicon. Our goal is to eliminate the periphery because the country is very small. We are going to be connected by roads and trains, because the distances are really not very big.
You have impressed me – each of you – with your vitality, your innovation and the directness with which you promoted a great idea, on your own at first and then by mobilizing others. That is the essence of what good constructive entrepreneurship does. I want to congratulate you. You are the epitome of the spiritual force and the power of thought and deed that characterizes us and empowers our nation.
Paraphrasing the words of Herzl "If you will it, it is no dream," I would like to conclude with: "If you initiate it, it is no dream." Congratulations, and continue enterprising.