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Why Israel is a start-up nation – Ambassador Ron Adam

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Israel Ambassador to Rwanda Ron Adam with Rwanda President Paul Kagame… PHOTO: Office of President (Rwanda).

Ambassador Ron Adam began his career at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1990. During his career he was personal assistant to the Director General and dealt with primarily with the Oslo Process and the economic peace with the Palestinians. From 1997, he commenced a fifteen-year stint at the United Nations dealing with all aspects of the United Nations from serving as counsellor for economic and social affairs at the Permanent Mission of Israel. In 2014, he became the Director of the UN Department at the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Ambassador Ron Adam initiated the UNGA resolution of Holocaust Remembrance and the International Commemoration Day. In 2008, he commenced his post as Deputy Ambassador of Israel to the UN in Geneva where he was in charge of the relations with numerous international organisations. Later on, Ambassador Adam was the Special Envoy on Energy at the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Israel; a role which entailed him being responsible for the relations between diplomacy and energy.

Do read excerpts of an exclusive interview with Dolapo Aina in Kigali, Rwanda.

Who is Ambassador Ron Adam?

I am a career diplomat with thirty years’ experience with the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Israel. I started in 1990; exactly thirty years ago. I have three parts of my career. The first part of my career was the Israeli – Palestinian Peace Process which I was very much involved in the beginning of 1993. Then, the second part of my career was the United Nations career (I did fifteen years at the United Nations (New York) and UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland). Then, the third part of my career was being the special envoy on energy which I did for three years. And now being an ambassador is the fourth part which is when I came to Africa (a lovely Continent) and I love it.

A loaded resume in a short brief. To the nitty-gritty of the interview, for those who don’t know, what is Israel’s Foreign Policy all about?

It is based on the history and based on our need to defend ourselves and a Foreign Policy built on a principle on defence issues e.g. since Israel was established in 1948; we have been like an island amongst countries who virtually wanted to get rid of Israel from the region for many years and they did not accept the fact that we wanted to be an independent state. This continued until 1977-1978 when a leader from the region came to Israel for the first time (President Anwar Sadat of Egypt). And we signed an agreement with Egypt and there was peace. Then came Palestine in 1993; then came Jordan in 1995. With the Palestinians; it is still open (nothing is concluded but initial steps were taken). The foreign policy is built on the sphere of defence. Otherwise; we are rebranding ourselves. We say it is much more than security and defence. Now, we branded ourselves as a Start-Up Nation. Yes, our economic situation is fantastic; we have more than $44,000 per capita income GDP which is very high and higher than some European countries. This goes to the fact that we have the most Start-Ups per capital in the world.

Has Israel’s Foreign Policy always been this way since 1948 or it has evolved throughout the decades?

It has evolved. We are no longer doing only defence (of course, defence is still important and we still have our enemies and Iran is one of them). We have nothing against the people of Iran but the leaders there still have the notion of destroying the State of Israel (sending rockets and all other things they do). And they have their long arms in the region. They have an arm in Lebanon (which is Hezbollah) and they have an arm in Gaza (which is Hamas) and they are all over the place covering us with their arms. And this is of course the enemy of the State of Israel. For this reason, our Foreign Policy on defence still stands. But of course, we are rebranding ourselves as a Start-Up Nation. For example, Tel Aviv is a city of the world and a city that doesn’t sleep; a tolerant city and liberal city for everyone. We have rebranded Tel Aviv as a city of fun for everyone. We have branded Jerusalem as the city of religion; as the footsteps of Jesus Christ and we are really encouraging tourism. And frankly speaking, tourism has really increased. And this is part of the branding.

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What we do as Ambassadors is that we do a lot of economic tasks (as economic ambassadors). We promote Made in Israel; Israeli industries; working places; employment of Israelis at home by Israeli exports. For example, in Rwanda, we are looking for more and new opportunities.

Considering what Israel went through before the State of Israel was established in 1948; it is more than a miracle but how has the nation which was known as an arid nation being able to transform itself into a Start-Up Nation; considering the fact that Israel is arid. How has the transformation been sustained?

The land was arid and more than half of the land was arid (and it is called Negev Desert), And it was David Ben-Gurion, our first Prime Minister who in the 1950s and 1960s who not only preached to go to the Negev Desert and develop it. He moved with his family to the Nagev from Jerusalem. He lived in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and then moved to the Negev Desert to live there. He was a visionary leader and yes; we can compare him to President Paul Kagame and there are amazing similarities. So, the Negev Desert was made fertile through modern agriculture, through modern irrigation systems that Israeli companies invented and showcased to the world. Now, when you visit the Negev Desert, you see a lot of agriculture which is amazing and very sustainable. When you go there, you would see a lot of villages and in the middle of the desert you see a lot of greenery. The technology there ranges from irrigation system, sensors for plants, sensors for Internet of Things (information about the clouds; weather patterns, soil situation etc). The plants would take in/absorb the exact amount of irrigation needed.) Irrigation today is modern. The farmers almost do nothing after the seeds are planted in the soil (what is done is to use smart gadgets to compute what has to be done.) And the quality of the products from these farms in the Nagev is very high.

It isn’t only agriculture and horticulture, vegetables, fruits or productions of food etc. There are also livestock and we have a very good production of dairy products. The production of milk in Israel is the highest in the world. All this is because of modern agriculture. I would say the Start-Up nation and the innovation ecosystem which are very developed commenced with agriculture.

People would ask, why are there always tensions and frictions amongst Israel and her neighbouring countries in the Middle East? Do you think there would ever be peace in the Middle East and would the world ever hear of peace in the Middle East?

Of course; it is possible; it has to be possible. But it might happen in the next generation until everyone understands that it would become a reality because even if we want to leave the territories; we cannot do it because there is no knowledge of what would become of a place like the West Bank (the place where the Palestinians want to have their independent State). And by the way, for years they have been controlling the cities. The cities have been doing very well economically for years (Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah.) They want to have a State but if we withdraw completely from this area, you never know who or what comes instead. If Hamas comes, we are three kilometres from the airport (Hamas regime with rockets. This is what happened when we left Gaza). But instead of building a new Hong Kong (which was Israel’s plan; they build tunnels in order to attack us underneath the border and getting into villages); spending billions of dollars instead of giving the citizens the needed infrastructure (malls, hospitals, industries, schools etc.) They build tunnels in order to get into Israel and attack us. A waste of time and money which is sad as they cannot do us harm. That is what we have in Gaza and we cannot allow it to be replicated in the West Bank which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

With Lebanon, we don’t have any dispute on land but we have Hezbollah (the longer arm of Iran) and they have also built tunnels. We found tunnels in the past and we still found tunnels. They can’t really kick us out; instead, they should realise that we are here to stay. Iran has to change a new course; take a new leaf with regards Israel. Then, we can proceed with peace.

With what you said some minutes ago, peace is probably possible in a generation’s time?

I think so. I don’t think it would come soon but of course, that is what we wish and pray for. We know there are lots of Palestinians who want to live in peace and prosperity. It is normal. We are all human beings.

To Africa and to the African Continent; what is level of progress of cooperation and collaboration between Israel and Rwanda in the areas of ICT, agriculture and education? Since as you are well aware that Israel is one of the Start-Up countries?

As with other areas (agriculture, health, education, water management etc); we are building a whole new level of relationship, cooperation and investments in all these fields. Presently, we are doing these engagements and we are now doing many projects as an embassy. Recently, we sent a delegation of regulators in the private sector to Israel in December 2019 to learn about the ecosystem of innovation and learn from our experiences and how to create it here in Rwanda. They went around Israel and learnt a lot and this what they want to replicate in Rwanda. Rwanda wants to be the hub of proof of concepts for companies in the world; to come to Rwanda, do the proof of concepts for products and then, they can replicate it on the Continent (because this is the place to do business, create new businesses and it is very easy.) And from Israel’s perspective; we would assist them. There are some hubs in Kigali and I am going to establish an innovation hub in the embassy where Israeli firms would come and create proof of concepts with Rwandan partners.

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And the jewel in the crown would be a conference which would be in Africa. I have been able to bring in an Israeli company which is behind a huge conference which holds annually in Tel Aviv. The conference is called CyberTech and it would hold from in Rwanda from March 24 -25, 2020. We are looking forward to seeing many Africans (private and public sectors and regulators) to attend this African conference on cyber. There are other things in the pipeline but this is just a snapshot.

Considering where Israel has gotten to since 1948 in a short space of time and as a career diplomat who has seen it all in international relations and global politics; and from the Israeli perspective, what do you think African countries like Rwanda and Nigeria can learn from Israel pertaining to her past history, her turmoil, her triumphs, her transformations and her superpower status?

I can talk about Rwanda and the East African region. Even though I would not call Israel a superpower; we have gotten a lot of things right. On the question, I would say that culturally, we can learn a lot from Rwanda and not vice versa. I see the culture which goes back to the Kingdom. I see the homegrown solutions which are amazing tools to promote synergy, progress, unity, good intentions between the people in the community and country. And they are so different in Rwanda and you can learn a new thing daily in Rwanda. We are completely different in Israel (yes, we think outside the box because we are not so protocol focused and it makes us think outside the box and create innovative systems.) But every country has her own peculiarities and we can learn a lot from Rwanda.

Also, I have to add that President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is using homegrown solutions (which I admire and adore) which was formulated and implemented from the beginning. And the President has created an amazing and unique place in Africa.

What is the title of the book you are currently reading?

I am reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho again; because I read it in the late 1980s and I needed to read it again because it is a book about the way of life and the ramifications of options you decide to choose. Coincidentally, I just concluded my PhD and I read a lot of books which were related to my PhD.

What did your PhD focus on?

My PhD focused on history of The Zionist Diplomacy (pre-State) I researched from 1920 to 1939. This period focused on what Zionist Diplomacy was all about.

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