Are Israeli hi-tech companies going ‘woke’? – opinion

Will hi-tech leaders’ embrace of anti-government movement lead to the alienation of employees with differing political views and American-style political persecution in the workplace?

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Recent weeks have seen prominent leaders in Israel’s hi-tech space — including the founders and CEOs of start-ups and venture capital funds valued at billions of dollars — vocally expressing their opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government and proposed reforms to the country’s judicial system.

Unprecedented activism from Israel’s tech elites

High-flying tech executives and industry titans penned open letters to Netanyahu decrying potential legislation they say has “destructive implications” for Israel’s economy and society.

They’ve repeatedly warned the public that a plan to more clearly define and limit the Supreme Court’s powers may result in foreign investors suddenly pulling their funds out of the country, plunging Israel into a doomsday scenario in which the high tech ecosystem will “wither and die.”

They’ve also pledged to dip into their deep pockets to fund a legal battle aimed at preventing Justice Minister Yariv Levin from implementing his proposed changes to the legal system.

And this coming Saturday night, numerous high tech VIPs, including venture capital fund managers and entrepreneurs who founded billion-dollar companies, will participate in an anti-government “hi-tech protest” on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, not far from where tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected to gather at HaBima Square.

Everyone, of course, has the right to protest in a democratic society, even if that means further exacerbating the horrendous traffic problems in the White City for several hours.

However, what’s worrying about the trend of hi-tech leaders endorsing the anti-government movement is that it may speed up the creeping politicization of workplaces in Israel. This has the potential to shift Israel’s most important economic space into an ideological echo chamber.

Political persecution in the workplace

The phenomenon of Israeli business leaders openly endorsing a specific political agenda — when they’ve largely remained silent on social and political issues for decades — calls to mind the Wokefest of 2020, when American companies tripped over themselves to promote the Black Lives Matter movement and express their “solidarity” with various social justice causes.

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The problem with this type of corporate activism is that it alienates workers that don’t subscribe to the orthodoxy being pushed by their company’s executives. Employees may feel that their jobs are in jeopardy if they don’t adopt the party line, and that their only option is to keep their mouths shut in the face of a blatantly political agenda that does not align with their values.

In the U.S., employees who voiced their dissent or expressed discomfort with the ideology being disseminated in their workplaces were punished.

Americans working in sectors including education, healthcare, apparel, scientific research, aerospace engineering, and more found themselves stigmatized in the office. They were isolated, passed over for promotions, and even fired or blacklisted in their industries for having the wrong political opinions.

Some have taken legal action against their former employers after being forced out or terminated, but the damage to their reputations and future work prospects has already been done.

Because hi-tech companies pay disproportionately higher salaries than their counterparts in other sectors, getting a job in the industry is a godsend to the average Israeli.

Considering that a startling one in five Israelis lives below the poverty line and many are tens of thousands of shekels in debt, a hi-tech job can be the make-or-break factor between a decent life and a reality where survival is a daily struggle.

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While Israelis aren’t known for being soft-spoken pushovers, most hi-tech employees would not risk their livelihoods to challenge political ideology in the workplace — even if they, like the majority of the Israeli public, voted for Netanyahu or his coalition partners.

True diversity means inclusion across the political spectrum

Countless Israeli hi-tech companies crow about their diversity and inclusion policies. Many proudly advertise the fact that they have women serving in executive leadership positions.

Some start-ups offer special programs to train and hire ultra-Orthodox workers, who often lack previous experience in key positions. Scores of businesses in the space recruit and promote employees who don’t hold university degrees.

Yet if that embrace of diversity is limited to those with the “correct” political views and excludes diversity of thought, Israel’s hi-tech ecosystem risks a stratification that sees only people with very specific beliefs able to reap the benefits of working in the industry.

Although Israeli tech companies have not yet released Roe vs. Wade-style statements clearly endorsing one side of an ongoing political debate, knowledge that the boss is vocally against the government would likely trigger employees with different views to self-censor.

Declaring a demonstration that reflects the view of some, but not all, employees in the space as the “hi-tech protest” sets a dangerous precedent. It suggests that protesters are speaking for the industry as a whole, and that their political opinions are the dominant ideology for hi-tech workers.

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Statistics about the political affiliations of Israel’s hi-tech professionals are nearly impossible to find, but speaking anecdotally, they appear to be as wonderfully diverse as the country itself.

Included among the people I personally know who are employed in the sector are a resident of South Tel Aviv who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine as a teenager, a Lod native who was raised in a working-class neighborhood, and an originally-Canadian “settler” who is a Ben Shapiro fan.

None of them hail from Israel’s old guard of socialist elites, nor are they left-leaning. They don’t have family connections or generational wealth at their disposal. But they are competent, good at what they do, and have been able to get ahead in the industry thanks to being judged on their skills, intelligence, and abilities.

It would be a tragedy if the social mobility provided by employment in hig-tech was lost due to political litmus tests and an environment dominated by a specific ideology.

Although billionaires who have cashed out and sold their companies for eye-watering sums clearly have the right to protest the new government, they must tread carefully and ensure that they do not purport to be speaking in the name of everyone in the Israeli hi-tech industry, or even on behalf of the people working for their own businesses.

They must make it clear that they are speaking only for themselves.