The case for collaborations: Jonathan Zadka, Consul General of Israel to South India, on improving India-Israel relations
India’s foreign minister Dr S Jaishankar recently concluded a visit to Israel, cementing stronger ties between the two nations.
The minister was happy to be in Israel — “a land with which we have ties of centuries” — and met with his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, to discuss the renewal of negotiations on the free trade agreement.
In January 2022, India and Israel will celebrate three decades of bilateral friendship, which has widened the nations’ relationship both in scope and diversity.
Jonathan Zadka - Consul General of Israel in South India, Bengaluru
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has referred to India as a “huge friend”, and the two countries continue to connect through collaboration in several sectors.
Earlier in July, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Consulate General of the State of Israel to South India in Bengaluru to launch an Indo-Israel synergistic partnership in science and technology called Indo Israel Innovation Bridge.
Last year, Israel’s Start-Up Nation Central and India’s International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology (iCreate) signed an MoU to initiate a bilateral programme to accelerate innovation and technology cooperation between startups and corporates from both countries.
In fact, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two countries have collaborated on several joint ventures, including Operation Open Skies and the integration of Israeli medical equipment and technologies in Indian hospitals.
Speaking at the 12th edition of YourStory’s flagship event — TechSparks 2021 — and India’s largest and most influential tech-entrepreneurship conference, newly appointed Consul General of Israel to South India, Jonathan Zadka, provides a deeper insight into India-Israel ties, especially on trade collaborations, the startup ecosystem, and sectors like deeptech and agriculture.
The case for collaborations
“Israel and India’s ties stand strong with strategic partnerships in many fields. We are seeing a peak in relations with people to people, business to business and government to government connect,” Jonathan says.
According to him, the scope of relations and engagement in technology and innovation is unprecedented, especially during COVID-19. In fact, Jonathan was in Beijing when the pandemic broke and witnessed first-hand how the virus spread all over the world.
“Israel received a number of basic essentials like masks and gloves from India. I was in Bengaluru during the second way and saw great support from all quarters in Israel — sharing of experiences and equipment to our Indian counterparts,” he adds.
Jonathan says while India may not share a border with Israel, the country feels very close to India.
“We are always ready to collaborate on matters of mutual interest. We share the same values and can complement when it comes to economic collaboration. We work jointly for the same goal — welfare and development of our peoples,” he says.
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar’s visit also brought the Free Trade Agreement discussion back to the table, with both countries resuming talks in November this year. India and Israel spoke of their intention of signing the long-pending pact by June 2022.
“This was great news coming from Dr Jaishankar’s visit about expedited negotiations, and to think, a very close deadline. It would be interesting to see how things develop. There is a lot of goodwill coming from both our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Economy and Trade in this direction,” he says.
Towards fruitful collaborations
The Middle Eastern nation is also keen to partner with India concerning innovation and research, thereby boosting the Make in India initiative.
“I'm always asked how many Israeli companies do you have in India? What's the scope of investment you have in India? How many Israelis do you have working in India, which companies do they represent? And it's always difficult for me to answer because whatever entity they collaborate through, it is done in a way to complement the Indian policy,” Jonathan explains.
He continues, “So, you might have an Israeli company in engineering, having infrastructure projects done in India. At the same time, they are under a joint endeavour with an Indian company, pushing for a joint goal.”
“What I see is joint endeavours in R&D and services that are geared towards the Indian markets,” he says.
When Israeli companies are looking at the Indian market, they should look at two things — India is a potential market, and an Israel-based product or service needs to be modified to be relevant to the Indian market variety, price, and applicability.
“For us, engagement with the right Indian partners could allow Israeli companies to expand into global markets,” he adds.
Knowledge partnerships and more
In his recent visit, Dr Jaishankar met with University President and senior leaders in Tel Aviv to expand academic research and technology collaboration.
Elaborating on the knowledge-based partnerships between India and Israel, Jonathan says,
“There is a lot of interest between the academic of the two countries. The collaborations are usually on relevant topics like agriculture, innovation, quantum research, deeptech, and the like. When Israeli companies come up with great ideas, with the right technology and the right know, it points towards the direction of innovation.”
He adds, “When it comes to the Indian partners, again, it requires some matchmaking. ICreate, Startup Nation, and others are in place to allow Israeli and Indian startups to collaborate on R&D, assistance, or even bridging the basic gap.”
Jonathan points out that the two countries have a long history in agricultural cooperation.
“If we are talking of IoT or drones in agriculture, Israeli has a lot of experience in these fields and can adapt them to Indian needs. Israeli technology can be later adopted on a larger scale. There’s technology transfer and that’s important,” he emphasises.
Supporting joint endeavours
The India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F) is a cooperation between the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, and the Israel Innovation Authority, Government of Israel.
The initiative promotes, facilitates, and supports joint industrial R&D projects between companies from India and Israel to address the challenges in the agreed ‘Focus Sectors’.
Jonathan says, “The fund creates an engagement between two partners, allowing for less risk. It may not necessarily generate profit immediately. This mechanism makes it easier for you and me to engage in at the same time through conditional loans. So if this endeavour is not successful, there is no requirement to return the loan as it is a sort of grant. The idea is not just to find a course to succeed but also take a lot of risk out of the equation.”
He is optimistic about both Indian and Israeli startup ecosystems learning from each other since they are highly tech-driven.
“The fact that both ecosystems are aware of their abilities and the advantages is something that could provide a long-term collaboration between two great innovation hubs,” he says.
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