Will high-tech Zionism replace philanthropy Conferees say yes

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LOS ANGELES — Philanthropic Zionism is dead. Long live high-tech Zionism.

That was the message delivered, if not quite so bluntly, by social, technology and business analysts as they peered ahead a few years to discern the shape of Zionism in the 21st century, at a recent national forum in San Diego sponsored by the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

As the generation that witnessed the Holocaust and the birth of Israel fades away, the era of Zionism marked in the diaspora by charitable giving to Jewish federations and the United Jewish Appeal, is also disappearing, said Gary A. Tobin, director of the S.F.-based Center for modern Jewish studies at Brandeis University.

His demographic studies show "only 11 percent of baby boomers still give to UJA or federations," Tobin said. And of the money that does come in, a constantly rising percentage goes for domestic needs, at Israel's expense.

Among the host of social and demographic factors for the decline is that the fund-raiser's trusty aphorism, "bad news spurs giving," no longer works, said Melvyn H. Bloom, executive vice president of the Technion Society.

A former UJA executive, Bloom said his campaign slogan used to be, "This is the critical year between crises."

As a substitute, he suggested an approach based on "good news fund-raising," specifically through support and investment in Israeli institutions and enterprises leading to "the economic autoemancipation of Israel."

The goal of economic independence — eliminating the need for a diaspora charity that is becoming increasingly irritating to Israelis — rests mainly on the development of high-technology industries.

If so, Israel is well on its way, executives of two major U.S. companies agreed.

"The best way to predict the future is to create it," and Israel is doing just that, said Joel S. Birnbaum, who heads worldwide research and development for Hewlett-Packard.

At a time when technologies in telecommunications, computing, entertainment, broadcasting and consumer electronics are coming together, "Israel is at the center of critical technologies for the next century, said Birnbaum.

Two years ago, his company established the H-P Israel Science Center at the Technion, whose engineers are working on cutting-edge research in image compression and error control. "We're setting up labs where the brains are," Birnbaum said.

The Santa Clara-based Intel Corp. was one of the first American high-tech companies to set up a manufacturing plant in Israel, said George Coelho, the company's vice president for business development in emerging markets.

"We started with an investment of $135,000 in 1974, which has now risen to $500 million, and we plan a five-fold expansion," Coelho said.

The Intel plant near Kiryat Gat is working on advanced logic processing and on flash memories, one of the hottest products of the information revolution, he said.

Intel draws its Israeli manpower from skilled immigrants from the former Soviet Union, engineers who formerly worked for now downsizing defense industries, and graduates of the country's "world-class universities," said Coelho.

Also helpful to new industries are "improved phone systems, government incentives, agile banking and a trendy society open to quick VCR and cable penetration and high Internet connectivity," he observed.

High-tech industries are now opening and expanding at such a pace that Israel needs 1,000 more electrical and computer engineers a year than the Technion and other Israeli universities can produce, said Prof. Arnan Seginer, director of the Technion's Neaman Institute for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology.

To meet the need of the domestic market, Technion plans to up its enrollment from 10,500 to 15,000 students within the next few years.

A longer-range proposal may benefit Israel, while at the same time strengthening diaspora ties with the Jewish state.

Earlier at the forum, author and teacher Leonard Fein suggested an American University be established in Israel, and that it be staffed by some of the 7,000 American-Jewish professors on sabbatical leave during any given year.

Meanwhile, Technion president Zehev Tadmor said his institution plans to establish a school for foreign students, an education summer camp for 60 Israeli and American-Jewish youngsters, and a more intensive student exchange program.

Such exchange programs are springing up among European universities, with a given student studying at both a domestic and a foreign university, learning a foreign language, and getting degrees from both institutions.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent