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The Far-reaching Dark Side of Israeli High-tech

The story of the dark high-tech industry in Israel, which seemingly focuses on preventing terrorism but in practice supplies the means for spying on journalists and human rights activists, doesn’t differ much from the story of the Israeli arms and military-training industry, which has flourished for many years in the most dubious areas of the globe.

But while an arms dealer, or military trainer, will not be in a rush to present himself as such as they put rifles and killing machines into the hands of dictators and brutal rebels (“Pleased to meet you, I trade in illegal weaponry that is used to commit massacres in Myanmar”), graduates of the IDF’s technological units, who are employed by companies that trade in digital weapons, wear halos. After all, they’re in high-tech, as their proud parents tell everyone.

“High tech” sounds like a workplace with bean-bag chairs, free snacks and wall paintings. And most of all, it sounds like money. A lot of it. And in our relatively young country that does not have much “old money,” we love to swoon over the new money. To hear about it, read about it, fantasize over it.

Once upon a time, we dreamed about exits and now we dream about “unicorns,” as Amalya Duek explained to us on Channel 12 News on Sunday – accompanied by graphs showing the unimaginable jump in investments in the sector. But what are they really doing there that justifies all these theoretical billions in investments?

“You’re speaking Chinese as far as my viewers are concerned,” Duek said, cutting off one of the interviewees who basically mumbled something about cloud computing that any average iPhone user relies on.

Duek is not alone.

When someone says they are in high-tech, it is rare for anyone not in the industry to even bother to ask, “But what do you actually do?” The answer, we fear, might very well be too complicated.

But this is how the engineer, designer, team leader, illegal online gambling tycoon and digital arms dealer all become the same thing. They are all in “high-tech.”

This is how the dark Israeli high-tech camouflages itself among the thousands of initiatives that are completely legitimate and may even benefit humanity.

This superficial positive image of the industry has been amplified to a great extent due to Israeli public relations marketing the “Startup Nation.” The new Israelis that the state wants to market abroad are the white-collar IDF veterans, the tech geniuses, those who’ve made a killing in the stock market, secular people from the center of the country who are just the right measure of progressive (“I’m for surrogacy for LGBTQ and against BDS!”).

It is symbolic that Channel 12 News, the No. 1 nationalist PR machine alongside Yedioth Ahronoth, once again promoted with misty eyes the attractive side of the Israeli cash cow, even as almost every leading newspaper in the world was reporting on an investigation into the contribution of the Israeli (high-tech!) company NSO to government surveillance of hundreds of journalists in various countries.

Quite a few Israeli high-tech companies, aside from NSO, are developing dangerous digital weapons to be sold to the highest bidder, with no proper oversight of their export. And even when there is supervision, it’s generally a rubber stamp – just as with conventional weapons. For years, and even more so since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, there have been international warnings of a loss of restraint. But here, as usual, no one is prepared to hear a word of criticism of our good boys in high-tech.

Source: Noa Landau – HAARETZ