Weekly output: Israeli cybersecurity, 2016 tech outlook, Apple vs. the FBI

BARCELONA–I’m here for my fourth Mobile World Congress in a row. The show doesn’t start until tomorrow, but today included LG and Samsung’s phone debuts and two other product-demo events. I’m here through Thursday, which will probably not be enough time to take everything in.

If you were going to use this space to ask what’s up with Yahoo Tech… I’d have to reply that you’re asking a good question. One thing I know for sure is that my editor and friend Dan Tynan is out and moving on, but other things are unsettled, and in the meantime I’m going to keep doing my work.

2/16/2016: What Israel Could Teach the U.S. about Cybersecurity, Yahoo Tech

The product of my trip to Israel at the end of January finally came together, with my last phone interview happening the morning this got posted. Please read the comments for a note from me about a mistake we fixed post-publication; please don’t read them if you’d rather not see one commenter’s anti-Semitic garbage.

Hub 2016 tech outlook panel2/17/2016: Tech & Telecom Outlook 2016: Tapping Opportunities in the Transforming Digital Economy, The Hub

I had a good conversation at this local tech group’s Tysons Corner event with Consumer Technology Association research director Jack Cutts, CIT Gap Funds investment director Sean Mallon, SAP Mobile Services strategy director William Dudley, serial startup founder Shahab Kaviani, and Wiley Rein partner Megan Brown.

2/17/2016: FAQ: What You Need to Know about Apple’s Encryption Fight with the FBI, Yahoo Tech

I wrote this post in record time–some in the morning before I had a dentist’s appointment, the rest after coming back from the Hub event. Key development since: The FBI told the San Bernardino police to reset this iPhone’s iCloud password, which defeated one of the workarounds Apple recommended to reveal the device’s contents without having to write any custom software to weaken its security.

 

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First-time reflections on Israel

I visited a new country the other week, and I didn’t even get a stamp in my passport in return.

Tel Aviv constructionIsrael had been on my list of places to visit for a long time. It’s scenery we’ve read about in the Bible, it’s a state that’s constantly in the headlines (not always in a good way), I’ve heard great things about it from friends who have traveled there, and it’s the home of a thriving tech industry.

My overdue introduction to Israel came courtesy of a trip arranged by the America-Israel Friendship League with help from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That New York- and Tel Aviv-based non-profit invited a group of U.S. journalists and analysts to get a close-up look at Israel’s cybersecurity sector, and my editors at Yahoo Tech thought its invitation worth accepting.

My report from the trip should finally be up in a few days. Meanwhile, here are some first impressions of the nation I took too long to visit; please bear in mind that if I were terribly confident in all of these judgments, I would have tried to sell this post to a paying client.

MezzeThe food is great. A friend mentioned that he puts on a few pounds every time he visits Israel, and I must admit that I did too. Shakshuka for breakfast, the 20 different mezze at The Old Man & The Sea in Tel Aviv, the stews at Azura in Jerusalem… it was all delicious, and I didn’t even get around to sampling any of the street food.

Tel Aviv has neat architecture: I’d read that before about this city’s stock of Bauhaus buildings and believe it now. I wish I’d had more time to wander around (see also my comment on street food).

Ideological violence is not a far-off thing. Here, many politicians compete to show who can be more freaked out over the specter of terrorists showing up at their front door. In Israel, attacks on civilians are not a hypothetical risk–one happened at a grocery store in a West Bank settlement the week I was there, and the newspapers also carried numerous stories about the recent surge of stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians.

Israel is more diverse than it gets credit for. After a meeting with a cybersecurity professor at Tel Aviv University, we came downstairs to find the building’s lobby crowded with Muslim students wearing headscarves (which, it later hit me, would have been illegal in France). The next day, a quick tour of Jerusalem brought us to the Western Wall plaza as new soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces prepared for their swearing-in ceremony there, and I was struck by how many of them were the product of the Ethiopian aliyah.

Western WallJerusalem is humbling and unsettling. Thousands of years of history intersect with the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths in the Old City of Jerusalem, and standing in the middle of it left me feeling profoundly humbled. I expected that, but I did not expect to see so many IDF soldiers and police walking around with automatic weapons. It wasn’t just me who found that unsettling; one U.S. veteran in our group did not appreciate seeing one man casually hold a rifle pointed outward at a crowd. Another uneasy sight: the bomb-disposal containers we spotted.

 

I still think Israel is creating an existential problem for itself. A week in Israel left me as unconvinced as ever that the country’s continued habit of building settlements in the West Bank does it any long-term good. As the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has eloquently observed, Israel cannot annex the West Bank without either betraying its own democratic principles or losing its identity as a Jewish state, and a permanent military occupation is not a solution either. The murder of civilians by Palestinians is horrible but does not justify Israel going out of its way to make any eventual peace more difficult.