By Philissa Cramer
The Israeli founder of an international payroll company that provides services to Toyota and Microsoft has announced that she will move her company’s money out of Israel over concerns about its new right-wing government.
Eynat Guez, a co-founder and CEO of Papaya Global, which was valued at $3.7 billion in 2021, made the announcement Thursday on Twitter. Her announcement came the morning after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his government’s proposed judiciary reforms and after weeks of mounting warnings, from within Israel and abroad, that the reforms could harm Israel’s credit rating. Netanyahu dismissed those warnings on Wednesday as overblown.
“Following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statements that he is determined to pass reforms that will harm democracy and the economy, we made a business decision at Papaya Global to withdraw all of the company’s funds from Israel,” Guez tweeted on Thursday morning. “In the emerging reform, there is no certainty that we can conduct international economic activity from Israel. This is a painful but necessary business step.”
Guez has emerged as a leader within Israel’s vaunted tech sector in protests against the new government, speaking at a rally of tech workers in Tel Aviv that took place last weekend amid protests around the country. The rallies are largely focused on the governing coalition’s judiciary proposals, including legislation that would allow the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to overrule Supreme Court decisions.
In her speech, Guez said she had been encouraged to raise money for Papaya Global from the United States, a common step for Israeli firms, but had resisted because she wanted to live in Israel and raise her children there, the way her parents had after immigrating from their birthplaces in Morocco and Tunisia.
She also noted that $54 billion in capital from abroad had been invested in Israeli companies in the past three years. “Without a democracy, we’d never have these $54 billion,” she said. “And not the tens of thousands of employees who joined the high-tech sector in recent years.”
Guez said foreign investors had been calling with concern about whether Israel’s democracy was crumbling. “Just like in Brazil, Venezuela and Hungary, no leading investor or financial institute will let his billions stay in a country with a crumbling democracy,” she said. She added, “Let’s say this loud and clear: Startup Nation without a democracy cannot stand.”
A second, smaller Israeli tech company is also moving its bank accounts out of Israel, according to the Israeli tech publication Calcalist. The firm, Disruptive AI, raises money for artificial intelligence startups and manages $250 million in funds.
Guez did not further explain Papaya’s business decision on Thursday and how it would affect the company or its employees. The company, which says it manages more than $3 billion in payroll for companies in 160 countries, entered the ranks of Israel’s “unicorn” tech firms in early 2021, meaning that it was valued at over $1 billion. It raised $250 million against a valuation of $3.7 billion later that year.
Israel’s tech sector has been experiencing the same downturn as the global tech sector, in which sweeping layoffs have been taking place in recent weeks. Last year was the worst since 2014 for the number of Israeli companies being acquired or going public.
It doesn’t take much to spook some people.