Innovation in Israel: A J-Term Story

Brian Diliberto '19
(he/him/his)
Guest Columnist

 Students visited Israel over the break and were able to enjoy the Tel Aviv waterfront. Photo courtesy of Ali Zablocki.

Students visited Israel over the break and were able to enjoy the Tel Aviv waterfront. Photo courtesy of Ali Zablocki.

Israeli Business Law and Innovation is a unique course offered to UVa Law students during the January Term. Students interested in exploring the recent developments in the Israeli start-up scene, or who want to explore a bustling foreign business and legal market, are encouraged to apply. 

Alongside UVa Law Professors Michal Barzuza and Dotan Oliar, fifteen students spent five days (four days in Tel Aviv and one day in Jerusalem) exploring the recent developments in business law and entrepreneurship within Israel, known as the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. Having never been to the Middle East, I saw the study abroad program as a unique opportunity to engage in a comparative analysis of the U.S. and Israeli approaches, while refining my understanding of Israeli business law, politics, and culture.

In preparing for the course, I read Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. I was surprised to learn that despite being the size of New Jersey, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange than all companies from the entire European continent, an incredible feat considering Israel has a population of just over 8.1 million people. With the highest density of start-ups in the world, Israel has the highest level of venture capital as a share of GDP of any nation.

As the name of the program suggests, a major theme throughout the course was Israeli entrepreneurship, especially in the high-tech market. We met with Eitan Israeli, Vice President and General Counsel for Wix.com, a cloud-based web development platform that allows users to create HTML and mobile websites, and which today boasts a $1.7 billion market cap. We also met with Nir Tarlovsky—vice chairman and co-founder of Israeli company The Time—who is one of the leading Israeli early-stage investors in the digital space, focusing on technology startups in new media, mobile, digital life, and digital video. Tarlovsky brought in several Israeli entrepreneurs to pitch their business plans, and we were instructed to ask critical questions throughout each presentation.

Israeli corporate law was a major theme: we explored topics including corporate litigation, corporate control, corporate branding, and marketing. We met with Judge Ruth Ronnen from the Israeli Economic Court, which we learned was modeled after the Delaware Court of Chancery. Further, the program included introductions to Israel’s “innovation ecosystem,” IP law, medical privacy and big data, e-regulation, and IPOs of biotech companies on U.S. exchanges. We met with Michal Rosen-Ozer, widely respected as the top white-collar criminal defense attorney in the nation, and Dr. Ilan Cohn, senior partner at Gilat Bareket/Reinhold Cohn, the largest intellectual property law firm in Israel. 

We participated in a nuanced exploration of the nation’s legal system and politics, and dived into a fascinating discussion on geopolitical issues in the region. We learned how Israel’s unique history has contributed to the country’s entrepreneurial successes; the region’s “chutzpah” was palpable. We visited the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, where we had formal presentations with the Director of International Law and discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Throughout the trip, students engaged in a candid dialogue with Israeli leaders about the impact of the Trump presidency, as well as predictions about the future of U.S.-Israeli relations.

Our trip to Jerusalem also included a memorable visit to the Western Wall, where we received a special tour of the complex tunnel system and learned about the rich history of the land. Finally, we received a guided tour of the Israeli Supreme Court, which included sitting in on a criminal appeal and meeting with current Israeli Supreme Court Justice David Mintz.

I hope to develop a strong international footprint in my legal practice, and this course certainly refined my understanding of recent developments in Israeli business law and high-tech entrepreneurship. Further, the opportunity to network with top legal scholars in a variety of disciplines and to meet with business leaders from widely respected multinational corporations— all while engaging in a comparative analysis of the U.S. and Israeli approaches and learning about current issues in Israeli law, geopolitics, and culture—was an invaluable opportunity as a law student. Overall, I give the program my highest recommendation. 

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bd3vp@virginia.edu