Smart New World

Israeli ingenuity and Innovation are changing the nature of global transportation

By David E. Kaplan

60 seconds – that’s all it took to help change the world!

Sitting in the Hilton Tel Aviv Grand Ballroom amongst 500 invited guests at the opening of Israel’s 2018 Smart Mobility Summit on the 29th October, I could not help feeling proud both as an Israeli for what my country is achieving for all mankind, and as a former South African, for the contribution of its Jewish community in enriching the State of Israel.

A prime example of both is the vision and passion of philanthropists Eric and Sheila Samson.

Prime Movers. Visionaries supporting Smart Mobility – Eric & Sheila Samson

With the lights dimmed, a movie rolled onto a giant screen accompanied by dramatic music and narration:

Welcome to the dawn of a New Age – the age of Smart Mobility. We are about to award the world’s biggest prize for innovation in the fields of alternative fuels for transportation and Smart Mobility. The Eric and Sheila Prime Minister’s Prize is awarded yearly to outstanding individuals who have made critical advancements in the field. Eric and Sheila Samson are top international business leaders, philanthropists, they are highly devoted and committed to the State of Israel. For seeing the importance of Smart Mobility, they have devoted an enormous amount of energy to create this outstanding prize that encourages the industry and helps change the world of transportation. In the name of Israel and the world, we wish to express our gratitude for your contribution. This prize and initiative will not only help reduce the world’s dependency on oil but will also help revolutionize transportation as we know it, making it greener and above all, safer.”

Transforming Transportation

It began a little over six years ago “with ONE phone call to my friends Eric and Sheila in South Africa,” said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the 2018 Annual Smart Mobility Summit.

Aiming to reduce 60% of Israel’s oil consumption by 2025, the Prime Minister revealed his concerns to the Samsons that “we have to free the world from the stranglehold of oil and the biggest culprit in the consumption of oil is transportation.” Therefore, persisted the PM persuasively, “we have to work on transforming transportation.” In pursuance of this vision, the PM appealed to the Samsons to consider sponsoring an annual prize that would not only help reduce the world’s dependency on oil but would further help revolutionize mankind’s modes of transportation.

Peering upon the large audience from across the globe that included delegations from 36 countries, including all the states of Europe, Israel’s Prime Minister bellowed proudly:

 “It took only 60 seconds for Eric and Shelia to answer with one word – YES!”

The result was the 6th Prime Minister’s Sheila and Eric Samson Prime Minister’s Prize for Groundbreaking Innovation in The Field of Alternative Fuels for Transportation. The 2018 co-recipients of the prestigious award were Prof. Doron Auerbach of Bar-Ilan University and Finland’s Dr. Peter Lindfors of Neste Oil. The annual award is the largest prize worldwide in the field of innovation of alternative fuels for transportation. Auerbach was recognised for his contribution to breakthroughs in the field of battery development that included the development of advanced batteries for electric vehicle applications. “Every electric car anywhere in the world is partly powered by our research,” said Auerbach in accepting the prize. “I feel great pride for Israel,” he said, “but it is the storage of power that remains our greatest challenge and our focus is to dramatically improve both the power and storage capacity of batteries to power the cars of tomorrow.”

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Fully Charged. The Prime Minister’s Prize co-recipient, Prof. Doron Auerbach of Bar-Ilan University (centre) for his innovative work on batteries flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Israeli Minister of Science and Technology, Ofir Akunis (right).

Lindfors and his team developed innovative methods to produce biodiesel from organic waste, including organic oils and used cooking oils, that produce millions of tons of biodiesel annually to power trucks and boats and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90%.

We have smart people in Israel and we welcome working in partnership with smart people all over the world,” said the Prime Minister to rapturous applause as he invited the best brains globally to partner Israel.

“It’s the smart way to go in embracing the smart world of tomorrow.”

Computer on Wheels

In classic schoolmaster mode, Netanyahu relished answering his own question: “So what is Smart Mobility?”

The Prime Minister has a knack of simplifying the complicated, so all can understand. Much of the world has discovered this by his eloquent performances in the General Assembly at the United Nations.

“Our great-grandchildren are not going to believe the way we get around today in bulky hulks:

  • that weigh tons
  • that 95% of the time we don’t use
  • that takes up valuable space
  • that guzzles gas
  • that pollutes the atmosphere
  • that drives one crazy stuck in traffic
  • that can injure us or worse!

They will look at our current modes of transport as we look back at our great-grandparents moving around on a horse and cart.”

Amused, the audience were nevertheless nodding in agreement.

The PM presented a brief overview of Israel’s history in the motor industry.   “When I was a young soldier in the IDF fifty years ago, Israel believed it should invest in the traditional car industry and built its first and only car. It was called the Susita.”

Apart from the name of an ancient biblical city, it was also a play on the word Sus meaning ‘horse’ in Hebrew.

“Not a surprise, it failed because we could not compete in building the chassis, the engine and the tires. Now however, fifty years later, the industry has changed, but so has Israel. Very soon, 85% of the cost of a car will be software and its derivatives – meaning a car is becoming more and more a ‘computer on wheels’. NOW ISRAEL CAN COMPETE and explains why today we are literally the driving force behind the cars of tomorrow.

While Israel does not have car manufacturing plants or vehicle assembly lines it is well positioned in providing next-generation technologies for what the Prime Mister refers to “Computer on wheels”.

With the global transportation industry in dire need of innovation, Israeli startups are navigating their way to becoming leading suppliers of next-generation technologies in the mobility market.

“We have about 500 startups engaged in this new technology,” said Netanyahu, “and Israel is now one of the top three great centres in the world for Smart Mobility.”

To the audience’s amusement, “I can also reveal we are not number three!”

The explanation proffered by the PM of Israel’s rapid trajectory is its mastery of ‘The Big Three’:

   Capacity to process Big Data, Connectivity and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

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All Fueled Up. Co-recipient of the PM’s Prize for Alternative Fuels is Finland’s Dr. Peter Lindfors of Neste Oil (centre) who with Israeli PM on his side (left), expounds on the nature and scope of his team’s research and achievements.

Eighth Wonder of the World

The Prime Minister was followed by Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology, Ofir Akunis who said, “It is not a secret anymore, we can say it out loud – Israel is the Eighth Wonder of the World.” Rattling off a host of countries in Europe, North and Latin America and Asia where Israel is partnering with companies in a vast range of ‘Smart Technologies’, Kunis asserted:

 “We are changing the world. Israel is investing in the future and our Ministry could not ask for a better partner in this critical mission than Eric and Sheila Samson who have made this possible through their contribution towards the Prime Minister’s Prize. We know from our history, knowledge is strength and when used properly, we can make the impossible – possible!”

Unfortunately unable to travel to attend – although the Prime Minister endearingly bellowed, “We look forward to seeing you both in Israel soon; this country needs you” – the Samsons were represented by close family associate, Michael Silver, who shares another common passion close to Eric and Sheila’s heart – Beth Protea, a retirement home built by South Africans for South Africans. (See LOTL article ‘South Africa Flower Flourish in Israel’ A major donor of this “pride of the Southern African community in Israel”, Silver serves as the retirement home’s’ Chairman, which in 2017 celebrated its 25th anniversary.

In an interview with LOTL after the presentations, Silver responded to the question of what he thought Eric and Sheila would be feeling from their home in Los Angeles if they could have seen how the evening unfolded:

 “They would be delighted and proud – not for themselves but for the State of Israel – of how an initiative that began six years ago has emerged into a global phenomenon supported by the government of Israel and attracting the finest brains from around the world to find solutions to a problem that has plagued the world far too long – to find alternatives to fossil fuels to drive the world – excuse the pun – into the future.”

Asked what message he would later be sending Eric and Sheila, Silver answered, “It was an illuminating evening and they were missed dearly.”

In truth, they were only missed in a physical sense as their presence was palpable throughout from what they set in motion.

Israel today is in the vanguard of the innovative field of Smart Mobility, bringing each year to the the mobility sector ever more advanced technology – from connected cars and autonomous vehicles, to alternative fuels, intelligent transportation systems and smart city solutions.

With the vision and support of Eric and Sheila Samson, Israel is in the driver’s seat with its eye fixed on the road ahead.


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A ‘Flowering’ Success. Representing Eric and Sheila Samson at the award ceremony in the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton Tel Aviv was Beth Protea Chairman Michael Silver (right), seen here with Rael Gordon (left) and Lyn Bach, Director of Culture at Beth Protea (centre).


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Israel At 70. Marveling at the miracle of Israel today were guests (l-r) Hilary Kaplan, Suzanne Flax from London, Ira Silver from Keren Hayesod, who co-sponsored the Smart Mobility Summit, and Robert Kaplan from Cape Town, a board member of Keren Hayesod.


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