Technion Conference Explores Emergence of `hi-tech Zionism’

Philanthropic Zionism is dead; long live hi-tech Zionism. That was the message delivered, if not quite so bluntly, by social, technology and business analysts as they peered ahead a few years to discern the shape of Zionism in the 21st century.

The venue for the re-examination of tenets that have guided Zionist thought in Israel and the Diaspora for over a century was a national forum recently convened in San Diego by the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

As the generation that witnessed the Holocaust and the birth of Israel fades away, the era of Zionism marked in the Diaspora by charitable giving to Jewish federations and the United Jewish Appeal is also disappearing, said Dr. Gary A. Tobin, director of the Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.

Based on his demographic studies, “only 11 percent of baby boomers still give to UJA or federations,” Tobin said. Of the money that is raised, a constantly increasing percentage is allocated for domestic needs at the expense of Israel.

Among the host of social demographic factors accounting for the demographic factors accounting for the decline is that the fund-raiser’s trusty verity, “bad news spur giving,” no longer works, said Melvyn II. Bloom, executive vice president of the Technion Society.

He suggested a new approach based on “good news fund raising,” specifically through support and investment in Israeli institutions and enterprises leading to “the economic auto-emancipation of Israel.”

The goal of economic independence, eliminating the need for a Diaspora charity that is becoming increasingly irritating to israelis, rests mainly on the development of high-tech industries.

If so, Israel is well on its way, executive of two major U.S. companies agreed.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” and Israel is doing just that, said Joel Birnbaum, who heads worldwide research and development for Hewlett-Packard.

At a time when technologies in telecommunications, computing, entertainment broadcasting and consumer electronics are coming together, ‘Israel is at the center of critical technologies for the next century,” Birnbaum said. …TX.- Two years ago, his company established the H-P Israel Science Center at the Technion, whose engineers are working on cutting-edge research in image compression and error control. “We’re setting up labs where the brains are,” Birnbaum said.

Intel Corp. was one of the first American hi-tech companies to set up a manufacturing plant in Israel, said George Coelho, the company’s vice president for business development in emerging markets.

“We started with an investment of $135,000 in 1974, which has now risen to $500 million, and we plan a five-fold expansion,” Coelho said.

Intel draws its Israeli manpower from skilled immigrants from the former Soviet Union, engineers who formerly worked for now downsizing defense industries, and graduates of the country’s “world-class universities,” Coelho said.

Also helpful to new industries are “improved phone systems, government incentives, agile banking and a trendy society open to quick VCR and cable penetration and high Internet connectivity,” he said.

Hi-tech industries are now opening and expanding at such a pace that Israel needs 1,000 more electrical and computer engineers per year than the Technion and other Israeli universities can produce, said Arnan Seginer, director of the Technion’s Neaman Institute for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology.

To meet the need of the domestic market, the Technion plans to increase its enrollment from 10,500 to 15,000 students within the next few years.

Technion President Zehev Tadmor said in an interview that his institution also plans to establish a school for foreign students, an education summer camp for 60 Israeli and American Jewish youngsters and a more intensive student exchange program.

Such exchange programs are springing up among European universities, with a given student studying at both a domestic and a foreign university, learning a foreign language and getting degrees form both institutions.

In general, “American Jews and Israelis must cooperate so that both will survive culturally,” said Tadmor. “The problem of assimilation exists not just in the Diaspora but also in Israel, which may ultimately face the risk of being absorbed into the surrounding Arab culture.”

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