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PANAMA - Diplomacy

Itai Bardov

Israeli Ambassador to Panama


Itai Bardov holds a degree in political science and international relations from the Open University of Israel and an MBA from Ono Academic College. He served as a commander in the IDF forces in the artillery corps and in the Israeli border police. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel in April 2006 and has been the Ambassador of Israel to Panama since 2021.

"Israel is number one in the world by percentage of state investment in research and development."

Itai Bardov, Israeli Ambassador to Panama, talks to TBY about bilateral relations, two-way investment, and Israel as a start-up hub.

How have the Jewish and Israeli communities in Panama contributed to the local economy?
The contribution of the Jewish and Israeli communities in the economy in Panama is historical and diverse.  These communities had been involved in the growth of the Panama in the sectors.  Examples ranges from the textile trade to the Free Trade Zone, education, banking industry, real state, finance, cybersecurity and others. However, I have also noticed that the Jewish community has cooperated directly for the development of other communities in Panama. Also, the Israeli community, which is smaller, is also very work oriented. For example, Playa Venao and Pedasi, you can see what the Israeli community has done to increase tourism and it all started here with Selina. Nowadays, Selina has locations in Casco Viejo, Boquete, Bocas del Toro and today is one of the largest hotel brands in the world. This success story not only impacted the area but also has produce a significant attraction of foreign investment, because more Israeli investors came to Panama and started investing in real estate, tourism, and all types of related activities which in turn impacted positively on the Panamanian economy and the society. Furthermore, the Jewish and Israeli communities in Panama continue to work closely with the Embassy on projects to support different communities here in Panama.

How are Israeli companies like BaseCamp contributing to Panama’s vision as a 360 hub?
First of all, there are quite a number of companies present here, like Netafim responsible for inventing the world changing drip irrigation technology.  However, I would like to focus on two sectors that I think are part of Panama’s vision to become a 360 hub in the region. One, as you have mentioned, is a company called Innovation BaseCamp Israel that built a technological park in Beer Sheva in southern Israel in the desert. This company builds high tech ecosystems by attracting technology companies and providing them with the requisite facilities such as offices, and all other services that they need. I was at BaseCamp in April with a delegation of the concierge, the foreign minister the Minister of Trade Alfaro, and the Minister of Agriculture, Augusto Valderrama, one of the places we went to was this techpark During Cybertech Latin America in May the CEO of BaseCamp came to Panama to continue this discussion. As a result, Innovation Basecamp Israel and the Ministry of Trade agreed to go forward with the proyect to establish high-tech park in Panama  BaseCamp Israel is set to build a technological park here in Panama.What could this mean for Panama? It means many startup companies and high tech firms will come to Panama, to establish themselves which in turn will result in support for higher education, generate employment, advanced research and development, and overall strengthening of the technological ecosystem.  This is a lengthy process currently involving a survey, the results of which will be assessed to determine the road map, but it marks a promising beginning to put Panama on the technological map.   You could ultimately approach, say, Intel with the proposition that Panama is at the heart of the America, and is ideal for a regional office.

Could you highlight some of the factors that make Israel a start-up nation?
We may note a few reasons why Israel has become a startup. Having till the 1980s, and 1990s mostly been agriculturally based nation, there was a shift toward start-ups, and eventually we became the number-one country in the world for technological start-ups per capita. We consider ourselves very lucky that in contrast to other countries in the Middle East, we had no oil and no gas.  and were obliged instead to invest in human knowledge, whereby education became very important in Israel. Therefore, the biggest state budget items in Israel are security and education. Also, Israel is number one in the world by percentage of state investment in research and development. The number two country is South Korea. Another of our secrets is the Jewish mother. Education is important for parents, and parents are willing to go the extra mile to pay for private classes. We always encourage our children to do well in education. Another secret of ours is the military, which in Israel places young people and in special high-tech units. One example, is Waze, an invention created by young Israelis who left the Army having served in these technological units. They left the Army, and channeled their knowledge of GPS for civilian purposes. The military hugely supports technological advances in civilian life. And then, of course, we have something that we call Chutzpah, a Yiddish word that means having the nerve, the courage, and the audacity not to fear failure. If an idea fails you learn from your failure and try again. Professor Shashua created what’s called Mobileye, an advanced technology for self-driving cars and related tech. He notably said that he was successful only thanks to his failures from which he learned much. So, many Israelis are not scared to attempt something, fail, and then try again and again. A a result there is considerable trust in Israeli knowledge and capability. Investors are happy to invest in Israeli ideas because they promise long-term returns. So, those are the few factors in Israel’s status as a start-up nation.




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