Netanyahu visits Silicon Valley, signs Israel-California pro-business pact

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Saying the future “belongs to those who innovate,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Gov. Jerry Brown in Silicon Valley this week to sign an agreement intended to boost high-tech cooperation between Israel and California.

Both leaders said the greatest goal of the memorandum of understanding is to solve problems in the realms of water conservation, alternative energy and cybersecurity threats.

Signed March 5 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, the pact gives Israeli companies access to California’s Innovation Hub program, which is composed of 16 research clusters around the state.

Gov. Jerry Brown (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View on March 5 photo/ap

Each iHub focuses on one or more different areas, such as high-tech, agribusiness, manufacturing, transportation or clean tech. The involved entities — such as technology incubators, universities and federal laboratories — provide a platform for startups, economic development organizations, business groups and venture capitalists.

Israel is first nation to sign this kind of agreement with California, and to be invited to work with the iHub network.

Israel already has strong economic ties with California. Tens of thousands of Israelis live in the region and work in the high-tech sector, while trade between the two tops $4 billion according to the governor’s office.

“What a wonderful furthering of the deep connections Israel has with America, and California in particular,” Brown said to 150 Israeli and American high-tech representatives, politicians and other dignitaries gathered for the signing.

Acknowledging what he called California’s “mega-drought,” Brown said the state has “a long way to go in water conservation, recycling and desalinization. Israel has demonstrated how efficient a country can be.”

Noted Netanyahu: “Israel does not have a water problem. How is that possible? Our rainfall has declined 50 percent from the days of our founding. Our population has grown 10 times, our GDP 70 times. Israel has no water problem because we are the No. 1 recycler of wastewater in the world — close to 90 percent — because we have drip irrigation, because we prevent leakage in our pipes and desalinate. California does not need to have a water problem. By working together we can overcome this.”

As for energy, Brown pointed out that California is the only state with a goal of achieving a third of its energy needs via renewable sources by 2020. He said the challenge would be storage of alternative energy for “when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. [Israel and California] have an interest in becoming energy independent, less dependent on fossil fuels. The way to go is renewable energy and storage.”

To cheers from the audience, Netanyahu also expressed his support for a proposed nonstop flight between San Francisco and Ben Gurion Airport. Currently none exists.

“I’ll put my people on this,” Netanyahu said. “If we can get this, there will be an explosion of inventiveness between the innovation nation and the innovation state. Let’s connect the two together. We’re going to do that with this agreement today.”

The signing took place shortly after news broke that Israel had seized a Gaza-bound shop said to be carrying dozens of Iranian missiles. After signing the pact, Netanyahu took to the podium once more to comment.

“What this reveals is the true face of Iran,” the prime minister said. “Iran is smiling, talking soft in the international forums, but it continues unabatedly its aggressive behavior in the Middle East and beyond. It’s sending the deadliest weapons to the most cruel terrorist groups and despots. This regime must not have nuclear weapons capability.”

He thanked Brown for California’s policy of divesting from Iran in its largest public pension funds and for investing in Israel.

Glenn Yago, an economist with the Milken Institute in Southern California, attended the signing and afterward called the pact “the beginning of a true global partnership.” He noted the two leaders’ goal to address the challenges of water, food, agriculture, health and security.

“This partnership with Israel has the potential to be exponentially impactful in terms of what it can produce,” Yago said. “It allows a scaling up. You can’t be a startup forever.”

During his short Bay Area visit, Netanyahu also met with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant who sold his company to Facebook for $19 billion last month, and executives from Apple, Flextronics, LinkedIn and eBay. In addition to his morning stop at the museum, he also visited Apple headquarters in Cupertino and Stanford University.

The prime minister’s three-day California swing included two stops in Southern California.

On March 4, he attended a screening of “Israel: The Royal Tour” at Paramount Studios on March 4. The one-hour episode stars Netanyahu as he gives CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg a prime minister’s view of Israel from the Red Sea to Masada to Tel Aviv’s hopping nightlife.

Entering a room filled with philanthropists and stars—including football commentator Al Michaels, former CNN host Larry King and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft — Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and his son, Yair, were greeted with a loud applause.

The prime minister spoke for a few minutes, and opened by joking, “Is this the Oscars?”

He then spoke about why he agreed to do an episode of the series, in which heads of state give tours of their country. “I think it shows you sides of Israel that need to be shown,” he said.

Netanyahu also highlighted the most surprising, and painful scene, shot in June 2012.

“I tore my Achilles heel playing soccer in a game between Jewish kids and Arab kids,” Netanyahu said, referring to a moment captured in the show, in which Netanyahu is shooting a penalty kick in a soccer match, with Greenberg as the goalie.

After following through on the kick, Netanyahu stumbled forward in pain.

“Are you OK?” Greenberg asked the prime minister as he hobbled over to him in pain.

“Something happened,” Netanyahu responded. “Something snapped. I heard it snap.”

That injury cut Greenberg’s trip, and the filming, short. It was almost another year until he could return to Israel to finish shooting footage.

The morning after the screening, Netanyahu flew to the Bay Area and spent several hours in Silicon Valley, then returned to Los Angeles later March 5 for a fundraising dinner.  On March 6, he visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which is run by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. While there, he was expected to address local Jewish leaders.

Netanyahu’s trip west followed several days in Washington, D.C., where Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama and gave a speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference.


The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.