Israel, the Unicorn Nation
From the ICEJ’s International Leadership Conference presentation
Many of you are familiar with the Ten Commandments. Without looking at Exodus 20 in your Bibles, what are the first words written there?… “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.” So, God chose to identify Himself as the God who brought Israel out of Egypt. That phrase is repeated another 130 times in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, anytime He wants to say something important to the children of Israel, He begins with that sentence. Why? Well, the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt was such a nature-defying, irrational, illogical event, we might want to hear what the God who did that has to say. Right?
But after God repeatedly identifies Himself this way, He then says twice – once in Jeremiah 16:14 and once in Jeremiah 23:7 – that the day is coming when He will no longer be called the God who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, but the God who led back the descendants of Israel from the North and from all the countries where He had driven them.
The current regathering of the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel is a miracle of biblical proportions. It supersedes the Exodus of Egypt to the extent that God says: “They will no longer call me the One who did that, but the God who did this.” And our first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, said “in order to be a realist in Israel, one must believe in miracles.”
Let’s talk about the technological and business success of Israel, why we are called today the ‘Unicorn Nation’. We have to put it in the context of an amazing miracle which far exceeds just our economy. Israel is the only country living in the same land, speaking the same language, with the same faith and the same name that we had 3000 years ago. There’s no other country like that on earth. And the fact none of that existed for 2000 years should be mind boggling. Why is this?
Well, the younger generation has grown up in the information explosion. Any facts you hear from anyone, they can Google it and check it out within seconds to see if it’s accurate or not. So, everybody is a skeptic. And you say there is a God who can do miracles, who can raise people from the dead? Has anyone here ever seen somebody raised from the dead? What about a whole nation that has been raised from the dead?
See, looking at the miracle of Israel, it is so irrational, so illogical, it defies every law of nature and history. It is the greatest miracle we can point to today to show this generation that there is a God in heaven. A God who can choose a nation and say this people will be in this land and be blessed. No matter what the UN says, or the EU says, or what BBC or CNN or Al Jazeera say, this is going to happen. This has been important to me. The thing that’s kept my faith firmly grounded in the Bible, and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is stepping out of my front door every day and seeing a miracle of epic proportions that I have no way of explaining. This is an important story.
Before we touch on the economy, just a few words regarding the ecology of Israel. There are many talking about climate change. Al Gore was not the first one to predict climate change. I would give that credit to the prophet Isaiah. Among other verses, Isaiah 35 says springs of water will burst forth in the wilderness and He’ll give the glory of the Carmel, which is very tropical and beautiful, to the Negev. And the desert of Israel is indeed coming to life today. Israel has the highest agricultural output per capita of any country in the world, even though we are in a desert land. There’s only one country in the world that has more trees today than it had 100 years ago, and that is Israel. We actually have 450 million more trees than we had 100 years ago.
British scientists came here in the 1930s and said there’s enough water resources to provide for two million people maximum. Those same water resources today are providing for 12 million people in Israel and the Gaza Strip, even while we are exporting water to our neighbors. We recycle and reuse more water than any country in the world by huge margins. Over 80% of our water is reused. Spain is in second place at 40%. We desalinate far more water than any other country in the world, as 90% of the water today in the taps anywhere in Israel is from desalinated water.
We brought drip irrigation to the world, smart ways of doing farming in arid areas. A simple kibbutznik was walking by a row of pine trees some 40 years ago, and he noticed that one of them was twice the height of the others. And he looked down and saw a leaking pipe. True story! And he thought to himself, if we could make intentionally leaking pipes, we could do really well with agriculture in arid climate. He created a company called Netafim, which was sold to a Mexican company for US$5 billion about five years ago.
Meanwhile in science and culture, Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees per capita of any nation in the world, the highest number of engineers and PhDs per capita by a large margin, the highest rate of entrepreneurship among women. We have more museums per capita than any country in the world, more orchestras, we publish more books per capita by a large margin. And this is a fun one: Beersheva has the largest number of chess grandmasters per capita of any city in the world.
Now regarding our economy, we have the largest number of start-up companies per capita in the world, more than two 2,600 start-up companies as we speak. Israel has the highest amount per capita of R&D centers in the world, and almost every serious multinational company has their R&D in Israel. Here’s a very partial list of around 25 out of 250: Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Barclays, Dell, DropBox, eBay, Facebook, General Electric, General Motors, Google, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, John Deere, Johnson & Johnson, Lenovo, Marvel, Microsoft, Monsanto, Nokia, PayPal, PepsiCo, Philips, Samsung, SanDisk, Texas Instruments, Xerox. That’s a small list, and maybe you’ve heard of some of these companies.
Bibi Netanyahu says there are three reasons why every country in the world today wants diplomatic relations with Israel: technology, technology, technology. And there are two things that every leader of every nation wants for their people: economic prosperity and security. Well, Israel is providing economic prosperity through innovation, with all these companies that I mentioned, and security by sharing our excellent intelligence and preventing terrorist attacks on every continent. And that’s more important today than fossil fuels. And I expect the list of nations that are moving their embassies to Jerusalem to grow in the foreseeable future.
Even the big players in the Arab League are all doing business with Israel today. We have seen business people going before the diplomatic community in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, doing business with Israel, and it took five to ten years for the diplomatic community to catch up. This is why I believe that the mother of all peace agreements probably will take place sometime in the next five years, because Saudi Arabia is where the UAE was five years ago.
There are more Israeli companies traded on the NASDAQ in New York than the entire European continent. Germany’s Deutsche Bank recently ranked the Israeli shekel as the world’s second strongest currency, falling only behind the Chinese yuan.
Regarding unicorns, every start-up company wants their exit to be a “unicorn”, which means a billion dollars in initial funding. The year 2021 was the greatest year for Israeli fund-raising for startups in our history. In IPOs (initial public offerings) on the NASDAQ in New York, there were 72 of those in 2021, which raised together over US$71 billion. Now they’ve created a new term called a “decacorn”, which is raising at least 10 billion dollars in your initial public offering. There were at least two of these in Israel in 2021. So, Israel continues to lead the global innovation scene, I would even say that it’s far surpassed Silicon Valley by now.
This article is excerpted from a presentation at the ICEJ’s International Leadership Conference in May.