Israeli Crypto Firms Scramble to Deal With War, in Between the Sirens

Few operational disruptions were reported, but some crypto employees were getting called up for reserve duty. Executives and developers coped with the stress of attending funerals, responding to security warnings and encountering supermarket shortages.

AccessTimeIconOct 10, 2023 at 4:50 p.m. UTC
Updated Oct 11, 2023 at 2:22 p.m. UTC

Ben Samocha, the CEO of CryptoJungle, an Israeli crypto educational resource, was on his way Tuesday to the funeral of one of his students, who had been killed, among 260 other young folks, in an attack by Hamas terrorists at a music festival near the Gaza border on Saturday.

He was trying to squeeze in an interview with CoinDesk, but the plan kept getting interrupted by sirens of rocket warnings on the road.

Samocha is among Israeli crypto-industry workers who are suddenly scrambling to deal with a crisis of a magnitude they haven’t witnessed in recent memory. He’s helped to organize an aid campaign to raise crypto donations, while dealing with the repercussions of the Israel-Hamas war, and trying to stay optimistic.

“I'm sure that we as a country, we as a people and we as a company will be able to get back on our feet and get back to normal,” Samocha said. “Crypto is here to stay, blockchain is here to stay and we will need education, we will need content and we will be here to provide it.”

Several crypto executives and developers in the country told CoinDesk they weren’t experiencing severe business disruptions – many of them are working remotely. They were mainly dealing with the personal elements of the attack such as the stress and annoyances of bare supermarket shelves and responding to security scares.

“We're very aware that even in this unimaginable period, life needs to continue,” said Guy Itzhaki, CEO and co-founder of Fhenix, an upcoming blockchain that will bring homomorphic encryption to smart contracts.

Jolt to Security

On Saturday, Israelis woke up to a reality they thought they were familiar with: the sounds of alarms to take cover from rockets entering their skies. Quickly, social media showed that this round of fighting seemed different.

Shortly thereafter, Israel entered a war with Hamas, nearly 50 years to the day since the last time the country experienced a surprise attack at such a scale. Over 1,000 Israelis have died since Saturday, with 2,500 people injured, according to local media, and over 100 children, women and elderly Israelis have been kidnapped and taken to Gaza.

The war has not only deeply affected the collective psyche of the nation, but the day-to-day operations and the employees of Israeli crypto companies have also been stalled.

The country, known sometimes as the “Start-up Nation,” has an economy where tech jobs compromise about 14% of the workforce.

One of the largest projects so far to come out of the disaster is Crypto Aid Israel, a campaign led by many Israeli crypto firms which accepts crypto donations to help citizens who have been affected or displaced by the ongoing war.

Samocha helped to organize the campaign along with his chief operating officer Tal Mor, and the effort has raised roughly $85,000 in the 24 hours since its launch on Monday. Samocha said his employees at CryptoJungle are all taking part in the campaign.

The local media outlet Calcalist reported Tuesday that Israeli police have frozen cryptocurrency accounts linked to Hamas.

Donating blood

Many crypto firms are helping to organize volunteer activities, like preparing food or clothing for those who need it, so that companies can collect or go together as a team to support those most affected by the violence.

Asaf Nadler, co-founder of Addressable, which helps Web3 marketers engage with audiences despite anonymity, said that half of his employees are volunteering to help out, “either donating blood or helping get clothes or food, people are deeply involved in that as a company.”

Crypto firms remain mostly open, but have made plans to adjust to reshuffling of employees.

Several crypto executives told CoinDesk that employees had been called up to reserve duties in the army; others are allowing employees time to partake in volunteering, or to support relatives affected by the violence.

“No one is really expecting employees to really work right now, or to be like 100%,” Tal Shalom, a partner at Collider Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in Israeli Web3 companies, told CoinDesk.

“Companies focusing right now are preparing themselves for different scenarios, like working fully remote or operating from different sites in case they're not able to go into the office,” Shalom added.

'Glad to be working'

Other companies have also said that showing up for work may give some employees a welcome escape from the harsh reality of the news headlines.

Itzhaki of Fhenix told CoinDesk that his company wants to “give them this opportunity to actually work, because working for me is one of the things that you can do that would actually take your mind off everything that's happening.”

One crypto analyst based in the West Bank said he works from home and hasn't been too affected other than the distraction of their kids being around, since school has been suspended. The person, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said the neighborhood had a scare on Monday after a report that there might be a terrorist in the city; someone apparently breached the nearby security outpost and left some burning tires.

The analyst and family members locked themselves in rooms in their house for about two hours, until an all-clear signal was given. Supermarkets are mostly out of bread, eggs, milk and produce, apparently due to supply-chain disruptions as well as hoarding.

"Honestly I'm glad to be working," the person said. "It keeps my mind off things."

Nadler of Addressable said he is supporting employees who lost relatives from the music festival.

“It's horrifying. It's really horrifying,” Nadler said. “So, in such cases, it's about asking them: Can I do anything for you? Can we be there by our side? It's the part in which you go from being a business to being a supportive family.”

Bradley Keoun contributed reporting to this story.

Edited by Bradley Keoun.


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Margaux Nijkerk

Margaux Nijkerk reports on the Ethereum protocol and L2s. A graduate of Johns Hopkins and Emory universities, she has a masters in International Affairs & Economics. She holds a small amount of ETH and other altcoins.