Netanyahu, Rivlin, Peres launch new Israeli Innovation Center
After decades of dedicating himself to public life in Israel, anyone would think that 92-year-old former President Shimon Peres would want to put his feet up and enjoy his retirement. But he doesn’t seem to know the meaning of slowing down and appears to become more active with age. On Thursday morning he proved this when he was joined by other top officials to launch the Israeli Innovation Center, which will be established at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa.
Leading movers and shakers in the world of Israeli start-ups and innovation gathered at the center, a non-profit organization that brings together a diverse and multi-faceted spectrum of participants, to hear all about the new innovation hub that highlights some of Israel’s best technologies.
Israel has been dubbed the "Start-up Nation" due to the high number of innovative technologies and successful start-ups that have been developed in the country.
Peres, who was noticeably emotional about the launch, was greeted with rapturous applause and a standing ovation when he took to the stage at the beginning of the event.
“We were a country with limited resources,” Peres said. “We had a small population, but we believed in our vision that led to our creation. We overcame our desolate land, and we turned it into one of agriculture that for the first time was built on hi-tech."
Peres told the adoring audience that the new center was a source of pride for the country and that it would help bring peace between nations.
He even went on to say that it’s not only Israel who can benefit from innovation, but the whole region. “l call on our neighbors to establish a startup region."
The current president, Reuven Rivlin, was next to speak and while the applause for him wasn’t as loud as it was for Peres, he was also welcomed with a standing ovation.
Rivlin said that Peres was the symbol of Israeli innovation and that as he gets older, he becomes more creative.
The president highlighted that while there is a lot to be proud of in Israel in terms of technology, there is still a long way to go. He talked about how people from Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities aren’t always given the same opportunities as others. “We are trying to change this,” he said emphatically.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau, who gave an address at the end of the event, also spoke about the disparities that exist within the country. He focused more on the geographical inequalities and said that he was working to make sure that every part of the country is able to enjoy the benefits of Israel’s technology and innovation sectors.
He joked with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai that Tel Aviv wasn’t the only city in the country that can benefit from investments in innovation infrastructure and that he wanted to see towns and cities from the north and the south of the country leading the way.
Netanyhau noted that countries around the world turn to Israel because “they know that our security systems and technologies are the best.” He said that because Israel has years of experience in dealing with terror, it has become a global leader in technology.
In a very impassioned speech, Netanyahu excitedly told the audience that this year alone he had met with some 120 heads of states and foreign ministers, and when talking about the success story of Israeli innovation he told them all: “The future belongs to those who innovate.”'
He also had some criticism and said that while Israel should be lauded for what it has achieved, there are still problems. The prime minister noted that education needed to be improved and also that markets should be freed up so that more people have the opportunity to innovate.
In what was a moment of comic relief at an otherwise formal event, the guests of honor - Rivlin, Peres, Netanyahu and his wife Sara, all tried on Virtual Reality headsets so that they could experience the cutting-edge technology firsthand. To the amusement of many in the audience, Netanyahu removed his headset after a few seconds as it appeared that it wasn’t working. Rivlin, Peres and Sara, on the other hand, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Dr Yossi Vardi, one of Israel's first high-tech entrepreneurs, led a panel titled “Innovation as a Tool for Social Empowerment.” He introduced the participants - Dr. Kira Radinsky, Sari Rott and Liat Segal - as some of the leading figures in the Israeli innovation scene. He said that the fact they were all women was by chance and that they were chosen because they are the best in their field.
In a tribute to what the Peres Center is all about, a group of five children from the northern Arab village of Daburiyya presented a cutting-edge recycling robot that they had created. They each took turns to explain how and why they had invented the robot and received possibly the loudest applause of the day.
The Israeli Innovation Center will open its doors in 2018 to hundreds of thousands of visitors from Israel and around the world, with a focus on students, soldiers, ministers and heads of state, tourists, and business delegations from around the world. It will attempt to tell the story of Israeli technologies that have changed the world.
Yonathan Cohen is a news editor at i24news.
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