In the spirit of Abraham, Israel-UAE business ties must be built on a foundation of trust
Michael Eisenberg returned from a visit to the Persian Gulf and suggests Israelis take time to develop solid and mutually beneficial relationships
I returned this week from the first-ever Business Summit of the Abraham Accords in Abu Dhabi. Together with other Israelis and Americans, we traveled to the UAE, where we were warmly welcomed by the Emiratis. I think I speak for everyone on the trip when I say that we found incredibly welcoming, intelligent, thoughtful, and genuinely interested counterparts in the Emirates. I listened and learned a lot and found much to discuss regarding potential areas of cooperation for the future. The visit was a very encouraging first step.
I spent all of Tuesday in Dubai meeting with investors and entrepreneurs. Here, too, I found enthusiasm, curiosity, and a group of leaders and investors trying to wrap their heads around the surfeit of Israeli opportunities that have suddenly come their way. But then I started getting worried.
I was dismayed to learn of many Israelis who were reaching out to our new potential partners over Linkedin, with one person in Dubai telling me that he was so overwhelmed that he had to shut down his account. A second person was trying to figure out whether the multiple Israelis pitching to him were even real people or not. This is a yellow flag.
One of the most important things I learned over lunch and dinner with Emirati colleagues is that the UAE is a trust-based economy. Business is built and conducted on a foundation of trust, which is actually how all business should be done. Contracts are a poor substitute for trust. Trust is built incrementally through predictable actions and follow-through. Trust is built by working together over time, getting to know each other, and not rushing into a transaction. Trust in business is built by ensuring that your partners make money. Trust is built by developing and reinforcing shared values and not just transactions. Shwaye Shwaye, as they say here.
Our relationship with the UAE is off to a great start — but it is a start. Remember that we have effectively been cut off from these cousins for decades. We do not know them deeply nor do they really know us. Building that relationship takes time and it requires good behavior. The UAE is a very law-abiding society and is very safe when you follow the rules. Our new friends opened their very safe home to us during this precarious Covid-19 period and went out of their way to make it work. I hope and trust we will reciprocate. I certainly look forward to welcoming our new friends in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They are eager to visit. (I will leave out their names so nobody bombards them on Linkedin.)
Even though these are called the Abraham Accords, I think this week’s Torah portion, Noah, provides an important reminder. A thriving society deteriorated during Noah’s life because of Hamas. “Hamas,” as the Jerusalem Talmud explains, is not violent crime but rather an erosion of trust, such as when someone buys legumes in the market and skims off a couple of extra grams when no one is looking. It is a pattern of unscrupulous behavior in business and a lack of values that erodes trust, destroys societies, and arrests the critical development of commerce and commercial relations.
If we are to be the ‘Children of Abraham,’ we must invest the necessary time in this relationship to build trust, to make sure that the first business transactions with our Emirati cousins are successful — especially, successful for them. Abraham was famous for putting his values before his very successful business, leaving money on the table for his partners Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre, as well as his cousin Lot. Abraham ensured THEIR success. It is our responsibility as a country to help our new partners sort through their potential partners in Israel. That is a national responsibility and a historic one.
There is much to do. The Emiratis’ expertise in infrastructure, especially in such a young country, is a marvel. They are able to execute complex projects quickly in emerging fields, from healthcare to logistics and advanced infrastructure. They can teach us a lot about planning properly for the future, and I trust we can help them with our famous Israeli agility and innovation. Israel can bring technology and entrepreneurship to the UAE as they modernize their economy. This lays the building blocks for a wonderful family reunion and successful commercial enterprise. And, as I said in my remarks at the conference, together, the three great Abrahamic faiths can build an economy on the timeless values shared and developed over the last thousands of years. That is my hope and prayer for the future. For right now, let us all commit to laying the foundation by building impeccable trust, respecting Emirati culture and society, and making sure that all of the early deals are mutually beneficial and fully worthy of the name of Abraham and his values. Shared values create value.
Michael Eisenberg is a co-founder of Tel Aviv-based Aleph Venture Capital. Eisenberg has been working in venture capital for over twenty years.