Israeli CEOs fly to Casablanca to offer Morocco a dose of startup culture

Rabat's goal is to is to 'build a startup ecosystem,' Morocco's minister for digital transformation told The Circuit

Start-Up Nation Central

CASABLANCA, Morocco – A planeload of Israeli executives who landed here this week drew government ministers, corporate leaders and a senior royal adviser seeking their advice on developing a startup business culture.

The Israelis, representing technology companies largely involved in agriculture, water conservation, health systems and sustainable energy, are spending three days at a conference in the North African kingdom, mixing with potential Moroccan investors and looking to make deals.

“Our goal is to build a startup ecosystem,” Morocco’s minister for digital transformation, Ghita Mezzour, told The Circuit after addressing the conference’s opening session on Monday. “We’re looking at Israel’s expertise in how to build the components and how to make them interact.”

Also greeting some 150 executives and government officials from the two countries in the Sofitel Casablanca ballroom were Moroccan Transportation Minister Mohammed Abdeljalil, Commerce and Industry Minister Ryad Mezzour, and Andre Azoulay, a longtime adviser to King Mohammed VI and his father, King Hassan II. Azoulay is often described as the country’s most influential Jewish citizen.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog sent a recorded video address hailing the diplomatic ties between the two countries that emerged from the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords in September 2020. He said he hoped business cooperation will “promote progress and peace throughout the Middle East, Africa and beyond.”

The conference, billed as the “Morocco-Israel Connect to Innovate Forum” was organized by Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit group based in Tel Aviv that promotes Israeli business through what it describes as technology diplomacy. The group’s CEO, Avi Hasson, the Israeli government’s former chief scientist, said he hopes Morocco can serve as a beachhead for Israeli companies seeking to do business throughout Africa.

“We believe that Morocco, under the leadership of His Majesty Mohammed VI, is uniquely suited to partner with Israel in blazing a trail to a new MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region, one that is connected by a genuine desire for peace and prosperity,” Hasson said.

The conference ends on Wednesday with Israel’s science, technology and innovation minister, Orit Farkash-Hacohen, scheduled to deliver an address. At least 13 Israeli-Moroccan memorandums of understanding between business and government entities are being signed at the gathering. 

Among the agreements, Israel’s Watergen, whose technology extracts water from air, signed a distribution deal with Morocco’s Waman Solutions. Israel’s Mehadrin formed a partnership with Adolam under the name “Global Farming Morocco” to grow and export avocados, and Israel’s Alma Lasers signed with Casablanca-based Guess Clinic to bring Alma’s aesthetic surgery devices to the Moroccan market.

Azoulay said it was critical that normalization with Arab countries be extended to include the Palestinians and bring “serenity” to the region. He said his remarks reflect popular consensus in Morocco that peace with Israel lead to an overall solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The May 11 death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in the course of a firefight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Jenin has heightened tensions across the Arab world and led to increased security for the Israeli-Moroccan conference.

Israel and Morocco maintained low-key business and diplomatic ties until agreeing to normalize their relations under the Abraham Accords in December 2020, partly due to the many Israelis who come from Moroccan descent and are estimated to number close to 1 million. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited the Moroccan capital of Rabat to open a diplomatic office last August and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourista came to Israel for the Negev Summit in March that brought together the top diplomatic officials who were party to the Abraham Accords with U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken.

The Circuit was invited to the conference as a guest of Start-Up Nation Central.