Geopolitics

The Venture Capital Behind Ramallah's Rise As Palestinian Silicon Valley

Sunset on Ramallah
Sunset on Ramallah
Daniel Rubinstein

RAMALLAH — In this Palestinian city in the central West Bank, some 300 technology companies employ at least 4,500 people. Despite enormous potential, the industry is still nascent and suffers from a lack of development centers and productive ties with the outside world. Most of the companies in this Palestinian Silicon Valley are still small and mainly offer support services to other domestic companies and institutions.

But enter Sadara, a venture capital outfit that successfully raised $30 million from foreign companies. In Ramallah, the administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority, there are already two small venture capital companies, Siraj and Abraj, which also invest in other areas.

Sadara’s success makes it the first serious venture capital group in Ramallah.

The list of Sadara investors is impressive. They include Google, the investment fund of George Soros, the European Investment Bank, the Skoll Foundation and the Case Foundation. The software giant Cisco has invested $5 million.

According to Zika Abzuk, CEO of Cisco Israel, “Sadara was created at the perfect time to be a cornerstone in the foundation of the Palestinian technology industry.”

Heading Sadara are two entrepreneurs: Palestinian Saed Nashef and Israeli Yadin Kaufmann. The Israeli’s involvement raised suspicion in Ramallah, but Sadara’s investments prove that it isn’t interested in politics: The company invests only in the Palestinian economy.

Good investments

Sadara’s first two investments were in technology companies designed for Arab societies. The first was in Yamsafer, the Arab version of Hotels.com, which provides travel software for 22 countries, including Turkey.

The second investment was in Souktel, a company that developed a way for job seekers and employers to communicate through text messaging. The company is based in Ramallah and was founded by Canadian Jacob Korenblum, who knows well both the Arab world and the unemployment phenomenon that is particularly problematic for younger workers.

According to Korenblum, while there are hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in every country, there are also many available jobs that younger job seekers simply don't know how to get. Korenblum’s company is trying to change that.

The investment in Souktel was less than $1 million, but Sadara aims to endow companies that are just starting out — not necessarily those that have already established some measure of success. And that’s exactly what the Palestinian technology market needs.

Kaufmann, the Israeli half of Sadara, says that the company's investments are important not just for Palestinians but also for Israelis.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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