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Lunch at the Tribeca Grill with: Lawrence Weinberg

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-08-17

Larry Weinberg wants Americans to see beyond "SOS."

What's that?

"Synagogues, occupation, soldiers," he said.

He is, of course, talking about Israel, that 57-year-old nation of 6.3 million people and a gross domestic product of $115 billion - and quite possibly America's staunchest ally in the world.

"Most Americans have no idea how much of an impact Israel has on their daily lives when it comes to business and technology," Mr. Weinberg said.

As executive vice president of Israel21c, Mr. Weinberg's mission is to emphasize that impact - repeatedly and relentlessly.

He will tell you, for example, that some part of virtually every wireless device and computer sold in America is designed or manufactured in Israel. He will tell you that there isn't a cell phone in the world that doesn't use algorithms fashioned in Israel. He will tell you that the stents placed in the arteries of cardiac patients were invented in Israel. He will tell you about significant advances in Israel concerning treatment for diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and prostate cancer.

Larry Weinberg will also tell you that all this is a difficult sell.

Why should that be so?

"Americans aren't giving Israel a fair look because their media convey mostly scenes of soldiers pointing guns at civilians," he said. "Mention Israel to most Americans, and what comes to mind is the Palestine issue, the never-ending war. We feel that it's important to de-politicize Israel so that more Americans can see the nation for what it truly is - a place to do booming business, an incubator of technology and biomedical advances."

Two wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneurs saw exactly that. One of them was Zvi Alon, the founder of Netvision, the largest Internet provider in Israel. He's perhaps best known as one of the creators of TCPIP, an Internet protocol with which most people get access to the World Wide Web. The other man was Eric Benhamou, an Algerian-born Jew, CEO of 3Com, a successful computer networking company, and also CEO of Palm, Inc., manufacturer of the ubiquitous handheld devices.

They poured their own monies into creating a nonprofit educational foundation, Israel21c, which stands for Israel in the 21st Century. They hired Mr. Weinberg, who owned a small public-relations company. They created a Web site (www.israel21c.org) to highlight Israel's economic achievements, and the opportunities available for business and investment there.

But shouldn't the Israeli government be doing these things?

"And they do," Mr. Weinberg said. "But their diplomatic staff is stretched. They are almost always undertaking crisis management. And the government allocated barely $7 million annually for publicity worldwide."

He acknowledged that the Israeli government hadn't always acted expeditiously on public-relations matters.

"It's Israel's brand that needs to be better imprinted in America and elsewhere," Mr. Weinberg said.

That, simply put, means getting the message out.

So Mr. Weinberg is out on the road much of the time. He addresses civic groups. He visits schools and colleges. He speaks with businessmen. He meets with politicians. He drops in on press moguls. He writes opinion articles. He encourages American journalists to visit Israel and to report on its economy and commercial prospects. He tours specific ethnic communities, the latest being Latinos. He's placed more than 2,500 articles in the mainstream press over the last two years.

And now he's expanded his bailiwick beyond America. Mr. Weinberg has created a mirror apparatus in Canada, where his efforts resulted in a Web site underscoring how Canadians benefit from Israeli technology and trade. He's also bringing Britain into his fold. Then there's France, where a Web site is translating information from Israel21c's American site. Mr. Weinberg is also distributing features through a French wire service.

How much does all this cost?

Mr. Weinberg was reluctant to say.

"Let's put it this way," he said. "Our needs far exceed our resources."

Thus, besides being a round-the-clock message maven, Mr. Weinberg also needs to pay attention to fundraising.

Although he's discreet about it, he's also paying attention to emigration issues. Last year, barely 20,000 Jews emigrated to Israel, a marked decline from the early 1990s when, after the dismantling of the erstwhile Soviet Union, large numbers of Jews headed toward their historical homeland; in fact a million Jews - one-sixth of Israel's population - settled in Israel since 1990.

As the peace process takes hold in the Middle East, Mr. Weinberg feels that emigration will be on the rise again

"You're branded by what you create," Mr. Weinberg said. "There are 13 million Jews around the world - and they know that Israelis have created a country of vitality, energy and productivity. Now it's time that everyone else finds that out as well. And we're beginning with Americans."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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