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From upstart nation to ‘Start-Up Nation’

A scary interview with the lead author

 
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Dan Senor, lead author of “Start-Up Nation,” is worried about Iran and Afghanistan. He was interviewed by telephone on Monday, from Boca Raton, Fla.

JS: What are you predicting for the next 25 years in the Middle East?

Senor: I’ll tell you about the next 25 months. The year 2010 will be traumatic. Iran will have a breakout in its nuclear program, and sanctions won’t work. The United States or Israel might go to war against Iran.

In Iraq, [if one sect gets the upper hand,] there might be a flood of refugees into Jordan, which would destabilize the region and have consequences for Israel. In Afghanistan, despite the [U.S.] president, the summer of 2010 will be worse than the summer of 2009. The impact of the increased troops won’t have made an effect.

JS: Getting back to your book, what has been the response to your talks around the country?

Senor: Very positive. The book has appealed to a wide range of audiences. American Jews find it exciting, but it appeals to people not just concerned about Israel. Businessmen and the military are intrigued by the Israeli model.

In this country, there’s a divide between the military and business, and it should be bridged. In Israel, an employer wants to know what unit a former soldier served in. In the United States, a corporate recruiter hears someone talk about his military experience, then asks, have you ever had a real job?

In the United States, business doesn’t value the importance of military training, of service in Iraq or Afghanistan. In Israel, a man of 25 has both military and college experience. He has better leadership ability and greater maturity.

JS: Israelis have sold many of their start-ups, often to American companies like Cisco. Was that a good idea?

Senor: That’s being debated in Israel now. They ask, why don’t we have a Nokia? Nokia has defined Finland.

The answer is, first, that Israel does have a Nokia — Teva, the pharmaceutical company. And, second, Finland may have Nokia, but it doesn’t have many start-ups. Maybe the Israeli situation — selling some start-ups, keeping others — is ideal.

JS: Why doesn’t Israel have a higher standard of living, considering its economic success?

Senor: Its standard of living is higher than it was before. The challenge for the government is to lift regulations against non-technological companies. Israel’s nontech sector is overregulated, and the regulations should be lifted.

JS: What will your next book be about?

Senor: My next book? I’m just recovering from this one! It’s taken one pound of flesh from not just me, but from my family.

 

More on: From upstart nation to ‘Start-Up Nation’

 
 
 

The value of the First Israel Fund (ISL) — a stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange — has climbed almost 50 percent this year.

Meanwhile, iShares Israel (EIS), an Exchange Traded Fund, has climbed 61 percent.

iShares Israel, an index fund traded as a stock, follows the Morgan Stanley Israel Capped Investable Market Index. Recent price: $53.24. It was launched in March 2008.

Both iShares Israel and First Israel were called bargains by SmartMoney magazine in November. iShares Israel has lower expenses, 0.63 percent versus 1.7 percent, but Don Dion, an analyst, claims that iShares Israel “struggles” with diversification problems. Recently it had 22 percent of its portfolio in just one stock, Teva. For information, call (800) 474-2737.

 
 

It’s rated only three stars (for “average”) by Morningstar Mutual Funds over 10 years, but its performance more recently has been superb. Its three-year and five-year ratings are five stars, tops. And this year, the fund has risen 50 percent.

The Amidex35 Israel Mutual Fund has handily outperformed its most similar index — by 5.08 percent over three years, by 10.54 percent over five years. Unfortunately, it began life 10 years ago, just as the dot.com bubble was about to burst. That hurt its record, but it’s still in the top half of world stock funds over 10 years.

 
 

The case for Israeli stocks

Isn’t investing in Israeli stocks too risky?

That’s one of two questions people tend to ask Cliff Goldstein, 53, president of the Amidex35 Israel Mutual Fund in Valley Forge, Pa.

Goldstein, a lawyer, answers that in an age when former true-blue-chip stocks like AIG and GM have fallen off a cliff, “the concept of risk needs to be modified.” Israel, meanwhile, has “thrived despite government turnover, no peace agreements with its neighbors, and actual wars. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange has vastly outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500.” The Tel Aviv Index has climbed 60 percent over the past five years, the S&P 500 is down 4 percent.

 
 

Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” is one heck of a fine book — which helps explain why it’s now No. 6 on The New York Times Business best-seller list.

You might expect that a book dealing with economics and technology, and about a foreign country yet, would be one great big sleeping pill. But “Start-Up Nation” happens to be lively, surprising, and fun to read.

A key reason: The authors heeded the advice of their publisher, Twelve Books, and emphasized story-telling. The book is chockfull of short, punchy narratives — such as one about Yossi Klein, a 20-year-old helicopter pilot serving in Lebanon during the war.

 
 
 
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