Ringing the ceremonial opening bell above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at 9:30 a.m. on weekdays is typically a joyful occasion, often celebrating financial achievement or momentous steps for a company. But it took on a more pensive tone on July 26 when founders of Israeli technology companies changed into “Save our democracy” T-shirts after the symbolic ringing of the bell.
In a video posted by the New York Stock Exchange, 15 people can be seen standing on the platform for the bell-ringing. Lynn Martin, president of the stock exchange, was joined by Guy Franklin, founder and general partner of the interactive platform Israeli Mapped in NY, and 13 founders of Israeli technology companies.
Most were dressed formally, but by the end of the video, the T-shirts—with big block letters—can be seen on the stock-exchange floor.
“We’re thrilled to celebrate companies who innovate and change the world every day, and obviously, the businesses that you all run are doing that,” Martin, the stock exchange president, told those gathered for the event. “You’re using technology to innovate, to change the way our daily lives operate and to protect us.”
Martin noted that she previously managed SuperDerivatives, a leading financial data vendor founded by Israeli David Gershon.
Thirteen leading Israeli technology company founders, including Wiz’s Assaf Rappaport and Taboola’s Adam Singolda, participated in the daily ritual broadcast by business channels throughout the country. The group represented the 400 Israeli-founded startups that now operate in the Big Apple.
It was a crowning achievement of sorts for the U.S.-based Israeli tech sector, and it also bore a political message. Shortly after ringing the bell, all of the founders changed into black T-shirts emblazoned with “Save our democracy” in big white letters while remaining on the bell platform. Several participants also sported the shirts on the trading floor below.
The controversy surrounding Israeli judicial reform has affected the Jewish state’s technology sector in particular. Several credit and investment-ratings agencies downgraded Israel, or warned Israel about downgrading it, on July 25, after the Israeli judiciary passed a law that is a key part of judicial reform.
Agencies that believed judicial reform would proceed with broader consensus were rattled, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called the market reaction “momentary.” In New York’s financial district, technology executives sounded the alarm to JNS.
Their concerns were in line with a survey of tech executives from Start-Up Nation Central, released on July 23. The data suggests that investment and stability in Israeli companies are already beginning to falter due to uncertainty over the country’s path and business climate in the wake of the reform quagmire.
‘The only way to get through this’
Yotam Segev, CEO and founder of the data security company Cyera, told JNS that he was excited to represent Israel at the stock exchange.
“At the same time, there is a lot of concern for things that are going on back home,” he said. “We all protest and object to where the government is going, and doing that without consensus from the people. And it’s a sad feeling.”
Segev told JNS he and other members of the Israeli tech community are “calling on the government to reconsider and to open up to a wider consensus and keep Israel a democracy, keep it liberal, keep it the country that we fought for for so many years.”
Cyera, which aims to provide companies with greater visibility of their sensitive data, landed a $100 million investment last month, as legislative negotiations were ongoing between the government and opposition.
Leon Lerman, CEO and co-founder of the health-care cybersecurity provider Cynerio, told JNS that he had “mixed feelings” that the bell-ringing took place during a tumultuous week. Still, he felt proud to participate.
“When I came here, I saw the Israeli flag on the New York Stock Exchange building,” he said. “It made me feel very optimistic that despite differences and disagreements, some things are stronger, like the bond between the U.S. and Israeli tech.”
Itamar Ben Hemu, CEO and co-founder of Rivery, told JNS that the Israeli technology community in New York is “doing our best to keep together with our teams and collaborate.”
“At the end of the day, we are in it together,” he said. “This is the only way to get through this.”
Asked what he tells leery investors, Ben Hemu said he informs people that Israel is a young country. “I tell them we will survive,” he said. “Eventually, both sides will understand that the future of Israel as the Jewish and democratic should stay and will stay.”
As an American, Daniel Frandsen, chief of staff to UVeye CEO and co-founder Amir Hever, told JNS that he is less aware of judicial reform and its reception. He told JNS he has been impressed with New York’s ever-growing, Israeli startup scene.
“It’s vibrant and community-driven. Just look around at everyone in the room. Look at the connections being made. I see people helping people,” Frandsen said. “It’s one of the really exciting parts of why I joined an Israeli-based startup. I see it in the office every day, and I’m seeing it here in New York this morning.”
His boss, who runs the computer vision tech company that develops automated inspection systems for vehicles, told JNS he worries about the impact the instability back home will have in the short-to-medium term.
Some vehicle makers for which UVeye provides services have expressed concern about the goings-on in Israel, and Hever hears from others in the startup community who are beginning to move their money overseas and even talking about moving their headquarters abroad.
‘Investors don’t like uncertainty’
Franklin, of Israeli Mapped in NY, which connects Israelis who work in technology with New York counterparts, told JNS that the local community will open its arms to whoever wants to set up shop, regardless of motivation.
“The ecosystem in New York is welcoming and supportive of any new Israeli founder coming to New York, to help him in a smooth transition so that he can focus on and grow his business,” he said.
In 2015, there were just about 100 Israeli startups in the city. That number has quadrupled “and keeps growing every month,” Franklin told JNS. “The verticals are mainly cybersecurity, fintech, proptech, big data and analytics.”
Only time will tell if those numbers continue to grow in the long term, but in the short term, there is uncertainty, according to Franklin.
“Investors don’t like uncertainty, and we already see a decrease in the number of investments in Israeli startups,” he said. “We will see what the government will do. But obviously, now the investors are waiting, and they want to see where the situation is going.”
Segev, of the data security company, told JNS that “everybody is feeling the effects” of what is happening back home.
“When people make substantial investments, they want to feel that it’s a good investment and a safe investment, and investors are worried,” he said. “They don’t understand what’s happening in Israel, and they’re asking more and more questions.”
He tells concerned investors that “business is doing very well. We’re thriving, growing, accelerating in the market, but also doing everything we can to change the direction that Israel is going in this regard, and to really affect the government’s decision and keep the country with the right values and the right alignment.”