Can Tech Solve the Arab-Israeli Conflict?
‘Geek culture transcends all borders’
In the crazy meld of events, stimuli, and crowds at South by Southwest, it’s easy to appreciate moments of serenity. I was treated to a few hours of it thanks to the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Labor, which hosted a dinner to introduce journalists and investors to the Israeli technology companies at South by Southwest.
Israeli wine was served, speeches were given, and presentations were made by 13 Israeli companies, which were hawking their digital wares throughout the conference. One provided a platform to make small-scale fundraisers easier. Another company boasted a mobile app allows a consumer to scan, purchase, and send a gift to a person in a faraway place on their phone.
“South by Southwest allows Israel to be as it wants to be,” a delegate from the Israeli consulate said. “New, innovative, and energetic.”
But for me, the real star of the evening was Alan Weinkrantz, a tech public relations consultant, blogger, and teacher, who splits his time between Texas and Tel Aviv. He was set to speak on a panel at South by Southwest the next day on the humanity of Israel and the Israeli start-up economy, which now boasted a trillion dollar industry.
Ebullient and fast-talking, Weinkrantz–who bears a strong resemblance to Barney Frank–could teach a master class on the nuts and bolts of the Start Up Nation. (The energy must be genetic because his son is manning one of hundreds of pedi-cabs dragging barbecue-stuffed visitors across Austin all week.) But when he digressed into his work with Palestinian innovation, my interest immediately piqued. He told me about experiences with investors and entrepreneurs who, rather than being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian are instead “pro-smart.” This is forging unlikely alliances.
“People are working together. There is a slow evolution of start-ups in Palestine that are turning intellectual wealth into capital wealth and social problems into economic opportunity. Geek culture transcends all borders. When religion and politics go away, interesting things happen.”
An example he cited was the friendship between entrepreneurs Jeff Pulver and Muhammad Monsour. (Weinkrantz showed me a picture of the two men hugging on his iPhone.) He also spoke of his work with the Palestinian Information Technology Association. And anecdotally, he told of accompanying a Palestinian engineer to the prestigious Tech Loft in Tel Aviv where she was welcomed and offered a desk.
“These aren’t isolated events. It’s the evolution of humanity.”
We may be far away from peace, love, and understanding, but if the tech community is emblematic of the future (Weinkrantz also sees the Haredi community as a place for start ups), some Israelis and Palestinians are already speaking the same language.