October 27, 2010
Startup Governor: Meg Whitman
If Meg Whitman is elected governor of California, hers could become a crucial bully pulpit for the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship. She is running to lead a state that — more than any other in our nation — is the central battleground in the effort to delegitimize Israel. And she is uniquely equipped to take on this anti-Israel campaign.
To be clear, this is not because her opponent, Jerry Brown, comes from the very political circles most hostile to Israel. (He does. Jimmy Carter is one of his role models, in fact.) Nor is it because Jerry Brown has trivialized Nazi genocide. (He has. The Anti-Defamation League said that Brown and his comments “diminish the suffering of [Holocaust] survivors, and offend those who understand the profound evil that Nazism represented.”)
Rather, the opportunity here is about Whitman’s perspective on Israel and the mood in California. Polls show that most Americans strongly support Israel, in California and nationally. Yet California campuses have witnessed an extremist campaign to deny Israel’s supporters the right to free speech. At UC Irvine, students severely disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. The same campaign succeeded in passing a resolution for divesting from Israel at UC Berkeley. All while the San Francisco City Council tries to pass a resolution condemning Israel for its enforcement of its blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.
While these are the actions of a small vocal fringe, these incidents do succeed in labeling Israel as “controversial,” thus reducing the prospects for deeper cooperation between the United States and Israel.
Such a chilling effect would be a loss for both countries, something that few understand as well as Whitman. Which brings us to the importance of her election. Whitman’s experience with Israel is in the realm of economic growth and innovation: “When I was at eBay,” she said, speaking recently in Los Angeles, “one of our biggest challenges was fighting fraud and identity theft. We thought we were pretty good at it — until we met a couple of alumni from an elite IDF [Israel Defense Forces] unit who founded a company called Fraud Sciences.”
Whitman quickly realized that the Israeli startup’s breakthrough technology for beating fraud was a game-changer for the industry and that eBay needed to buy the entire company.
Now Whitman says that “Fraud Sciences transformed eBay. To this day, when our engineers are presented with some of the toughest problems, they immediately reach out to the team at Fraud Sciences in Israel for help.” Previously, eBay had bought another Israeli startup, called Shopping.com.
She’s chock-full of stories about Israelis and Californians partnering on innovations on just about everything: Israel is where many of Intel’s computer chips were developed and built, and where Internet firewalls, the disk-on-key and voice mail were invented. It is the world leader in medical device patents, producing inventions such as a disposable camera-in-a-pill that can beam out live video images from inside the intestine (on the way to making very painful diagnostic procedures all but obsolete). BrightSource, a company based in California and Israel, already operates the world’s largest solar power facilities and is about to build what may be the world’s most efficient solar power plant in Ivanpah, Calif.
California exports $1.5 billion annually to Israel, while California companies are at the forefront of buying and investing in Israeli startups, as well as opening research and development centers in Israel — all of which fuel the expansion of California businesses. So, Israel connects directly with Whitman’s top priority: creating jobs in California.
California, like Israel, runs on creative energy. Israel has the largest concentration of high-tech startups outside of Silicon Valley, and many entrepreneurs routinely shuttle between them and feel at home in both places. Whitman understands that there is no greater job engine than small businesses and startups that create or transform whole industries. But startups, whether they are in Silicon Valley or Israel or both, could be the key not only to helping revive California’s economy but also to it once again becoming a national innovator.
Whitman is a leader who truly understands this — from firsthand experience — and has the drive and ability to put it into action. She has a plan to return California to prosperity and won’t be intimidated by extremists who call for boycott and divestment from Israel. We strongly endorse her efforts to build A New California and grow the California-Israel relationship.
Zvi Alon is CEO of Alon Ventures and chairman of the California Israel Chamber of Commerce. Dan Senor is the co-author of “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” and a former adviser to Meg Whitman.