This week I returned from the first Abraham Accords Business Summit in Abu Dhabi. We traveled to the UAE with other Israelis and Americans and were warmly welcomed by the Emiratis. When I say that we have found very warm, smart, thoughtful and genuinely interested peers in the UAE, I think I represent everyone on the journey. I listened a lot, learned a lot, and found a lot of discussions about potential future areas of collaboration. This visit was a very encouraging first step.
I spent the entire Tuesday in Dubai meeting with investors and entrepreneurs. Here, too, I found enthusiasm, curiosity, and a group of leaders and investors who were trying to brainstorm around the plethora of Israeli opportunities that were popping up. But then I started to worry.
I was dismayed to learn that many Israelis were contacting our new potential partners through Linkedin, and one guy in Dubai told me he was overwhelmed and had to close his account. The second tried to figure out whether the multiple Israelis who pitched him were real people. This is a yellow flag.
One of the most important things I learned over lunch and dinner with my UAE colleagues is that the UAE is an economy built on trust. Business is built and conducted on trust, which is how virtually all businesses should be. Contracts are not a good substitute for trust. Trust is built incrementally through predictable action and follow-up. Trust is built by working together and getting to know each other over time, rather than rushing into transactions. Build trust in your business by making sure your partners make money. Trust is built by developing and strengthening shared values, not just transactions. Shwaye Shwaye, as they say here.
Our relationship with the UAE is off to a good start – but it’s just the beginning. Remember, we’ve been virtually cut off from these cousins for decades. We don’t know them deeply, and they don’t really know us. Building this relationship takes time, and it requires good behavior. The UAE is a very law-abiding society and it is very safe to follow the rules. During this precarious time of Covid-19, our new friends have opened up to us their very safe home and are doing their best to make it work. I hope and believe that we will have something in return. I certainly look forward to welcoming our new friends in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They are eager to visit. (I’ll omit their names so no one is bombarding them on Linkedin.)
Although these are called the Abrahamic Agreements, I think this week’s Torah section, Noah, provides an important reminder. A prosperous society deteriorated in Noah’s life because of Hamas. As the Jerusalem Talmud explains, “Hamas” is not a violent crime, but an erosion of trust, such as someone buying beans in the market and stealing a few extra grams without anyone noticing of grams. This is a key development in unethical behaviour patterns and lack of values in business that erodes trust, undermines society and hinders business and commercial relationships.
If we are to be “Sons of Abraham”, we must invest the necessary time in this relationship to build trust to ensure that the first business transaction with our Emirati cousins is a success – especially for them. Known for putting his values ahead of his highly successful career, Abraham left money for his partners Arnell, Eshkol and Mamley, as well as his cousin Lott. Abraham ensured their success. As a country, we have a responsibility to help our new partners screen their potential partners in Israel. This is a national responsibility and a historic one.
There is a lot to do. The UAE’s expertise in infrastructure, especially in such a young country, is a miracle. They are able to rapidly execute complex projects in emerging fields, from healthcare to logistics and advanced infrastructure. They can teach us a lot about planning the future properly, and I believe we can help them with our Israeli agility and innovation for which we are known. As the economy modernizes, Israel can bring technology and entrepreneurship to the UAE. This sets the stage for a wonderful family reunion and a successful business venture. And, as I said in my speech at the conference, the three Abrahamic faiths can build economies based on timeless values that have been shared and developed over thousands of years. This is my hope and prayer for the future. For now, let us all commit to laying the groundwork by building impeccable trust, respecting Emirati culture and society, and ensuring that all early deals are mutually beneficial and fully aligned with Abraham’s name and his values. Shared value creates value.
Michael Eisenberg is the co-founder of Tel Aviv Aleph Ventures. Eisenberg has worked in venture capital for over two decades.