Seen from a historical perspective, half a century is but the blinking of an eye – especially in the context of German-Jewish history, which spans two millenia. The bonds between Germans and Jews are so strong that they have even withstood the unspeakable crimes of the Shoah. Yet the pain ran so deep that diplomatic relations between the new state of Israel, founded in 1948, and the new Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), founded in 1949, were, to begin with, out of the question.
A turning point came in 1952 with the reparations agreement signed in Luxembourg between West Germany, Israel and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The agreement initiated some measure of material restitution and compensation for the material losses incurred by Jews under Nazi domination. Germany provided Israel with goods worth billions to improve its infrastructure. Israel upgraded its merchant navy, its railway, and other aspects of its infrastructure with high-quality German equipment and machinery. This was also a stimulus program for the German industry, because all those items would need spare parts and would eventually have to be replaced.
Thirteen years after the Luxembourg Agreement, diplomatic relations between West Germany and Israel were established in 1965. By that time, economic ties between the two countries were already flourishing. (jvg)
To honor the long-standing diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel and to mark the fiftieth anniversary in 2017 of the creation of the German-Israeli Chamber of Industry and Commerce and of the German-Israeli Economic Association, the Chamber has created an exhibition on the history of German brands and products in Israel. It charts the transition from rejection of and ambivalence towards Germans and German products to acceptance and, ultimately, to trusting partnership. At the same time, this exhibition also documents the history of the chamber.
The key development in the first two decades of the past half century was the overcoming of barriers for Israeli agricultural exports, foodstuffs, plastics and textiles. The next two decades saw increasing interest in the growing Israeli market on the part of German companies such as Siemens, Volkswagen, Henkel and Daimler – developments in which the chamber was closely involved.
Over the past decade the chamber – also known as AHK Israel – has become increasingly involved in high-tech industries and technology transfer and has become a springboard for German industry in the start-up nation Israel.
What fascinates official delegations and entrepreneurs about Israel nowadays are its high-tech, entrepreneurial spirit and modes of technology transfer, as well as the role of the military; they are interested in ways to co-operate and share in the astounding developments underway in Israel’s Silicon Wadi.
Mutual strategic investment
Against the backdrop of a decline in exports from Israel to Europe and in particular to Germany, co-operation in research and development and mutual strategic investment are of particular long-term importance. Many German technology scouts are out and about in Israel these days, looking for breakthrough technologies for their companies back in Germany. They are frequent guests at incubators, accelerators, joint workspaces, venture capital funds, university technology transfer offices, meet-ups, start-ups, and grown-ups, and have become an integral part of the system. The scouts represent not only pure tech firms such as SAP, Deutsche Telekom and Bosch, but also and increasingly finance, insurance and energy companies looking for new business models, new ways to work with big data, alternative models for enhancing customer loyalty, as well as solutions to urgent cybersecurity issues.
Our chamber has created a range of platforms to enable and enhance this exchange – in biosciences, software and internet, renewable energies and energy efficiency. We advise German firms, associations, and government representatives at both national and state level, and assist them in their dealings with Israel. We organise customized visits, place German interns in Israeli technology firms, and help Israeli start-ups access German support programmes.
Over the past five decades our chamber has morphed from a traditional service-provider in the realm of the bilateral exchange of goods and services to a hub for knowledge and skills transfer, technology scouting, and bilateral investment flows. In these areas Germany and Israel deal with each other as equals; what counts are excellence, innovation, dynamism, and human capital; the difference in size of the two countries is of little significance.
Identifying potential partners
The chamber still has a lot to do. While Germany’s Fortune 500 companies are already engaged in Israel and are in regular contact with our chamber, small and medium-sized firms need more assistance. The chamber can alert them to the potential to be found in Israel, help them identify possible partners, find the right technology, and develop the best business model.
The central task of the next decade will be to bring together German hidden champions and Israeli innovators. The range of themes is growing all the time: machine learning and machine vision, the industrial internet of things, autonomous robots, big data analytics, simulation and augmented reality – topics that together fall under the heading of Industry 4.0. But there is more: autonomous driving, unmanned vehicles, and the corresponding new models of mobility are also on the agenda, as are developments in the management of resources, particularly water and energy, that are urgently needed in the face of climate change.
At the same time, as a bi-national bilateral chamber, we also support Israeli firms seeking German business partners, helping them to overcome cultural barriers and find their way into the German market, the most important single market in Europe.
With its command of the German and Hebrew languages, intimate knowledge of the business communities and cultures in both countries, the German-Israeli Chamber of Industry and Commerce has become an indispensible facilitator and bridge-builder – bringing together entrepreneurs and matching ideas and individuals in such a way that one plus one yields much more than two.■
Grisha Alroi-Arloser has been the managing director of the German-Israeli Chamber of Industry and Commerce (AHK Israel) since 2008 and has headed the German-Israeli Economic Association since 2002