Friday, December 18, 2009

Israel is a normal country, almost.

According to Israelis and others who talk and write about the country, it is the worst or the best place on earth.

Hyperbole is the language of those who love and hate it. It is often in the cross hairs of international organizations flying the flags of justice and humane behavior. Or it is doing the Lord's work, and is set upon by vicious, predisposed, anti-Semitic beings, who according to some include the man currently sitting in the Oval Office.
Israelis also speak with fulsome criticism or praise. Among their accusations is that it has the most severe records of inequality, getting worse by the day; that its drivers are among the worse in the world; and that its politicians are among the most corrupt and self-serving, with governments that cannot live out their terms without falling victim to petty disputes. There are also Israelis who cannot pause to consider these things, so busy are they boasting the country's record in medical and technological advances, and economic performance.

Reality, as usual, is more complex than the boasts and accusations of people who feel too strongly about their views.

Israel is beset with enemies, and it does defend itself, but with less "collateral damage" than can be found for countries also involved in warfare, like the United States and Britain, whose residents are among the most prominent in accusing Israel of war crimes.

Israel is not a perfectly egalitarian society, and it does have traffic accidents. Its governments do exhibit internal conflict and are likely to fall before the end of their terms. However, in each of these traits Israel is in the normal range, and generally about the average for Western democracies. Anyone wanting to find countries where there is much greater inequality, many more traffic accidents, and governments that are more problematic should look in the Third World. The great rift in human behavior is between the well to do and the poor. And on this trait, Israel is usually in the middle of well to do countries on a host of indicators.

Against claims that Arab Israelis suffer from discrimination and persecution, the facts are that Israel's minority is closer to the Jewish majority on indicators of family income than are comparable findings for minorities and majorities in the United States; and Israeli Arabs have better indicators of health than White Americans.

If Israel is pretty much like other countries to which it might be compared, why the excitement?

One reason is all those Muslim countries, with votes in international forums, and money to hire public relations firms, buy into media companies, and endow universities. This assures lip service from Western governments not wanting to annoy their sources of energy, as well as cooperation from individuals who administer higher education and the media.

Another reason is the place and nature of Israel and its population. Jews and others expect more of the Promised Land. The Light unto the Gentiles does not shine as brightly as some expect. It is not Heaven on Earth, but its human failings (i.e., being a normal country with social problems and disputes) disappoints the faithful who expect more of it.

Israel infuriates Muslims who view the entire Middle East (which some of them stretch all the way to Portugal) as properly Arab. It angers ideologues (Jews and others) who buy into the Palestinian narrative and conclude that Palestine should be their home, or at least a place where they are treated better than minorities elsewhere.

In regard to the overly fulsome praise, some time ago there was an e-mail passed around and around, which I filed under the heading of Jewish junk. For those who want to kvel or chuckle, I am including it as an attachment. The claim that Israel has the highest living standards and wealth in the Middle East leaves out a number of the oil producing countries; and that it has the highest incidence of university graduates in the world does not square with World Bank data. They show Israel ranking 16th among 21 upper income countries on a measure of university enrollments relative to population. On most things, Israel must be satisfied with being good, without being the best.

So please lower the volume of complaints and praise. They disturb my enjoyment of wine from the Golan. It is good, but not the best.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

* Israel, the 100th smallest country, with less than 1/1000th of the world's population, can make claim to the following:
* Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world.
* Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation by a large margin - 109 per 10,000 people - as well as one of the highest per capita rates of patents filed.
* In proportion to its population, Israel has the largest number of startup companies in the world. In absolute terms, Israel has the largest number of startup companies than any other country in the world, except the United States (3,500 companies mostly in hi-tech). for venture capital funds right behind the U.S.
* Outside the United States and Canada, Israel has the largest number of NASDAQ listed companies.
* Israel has the highest average living standards in the Middle East. The per capita income in 2000 was over $17,500, exceeding that of the UK.
* With an aerial arsenal of over 250 F-16s, Israel has the largest fleet of the aircraft outside of the United States.
* Israel's $100 billion economy is larger than all of its immediate neighbors combined.
* On a per capita basis, Israel has the largest number of biotech start-ups.
* Israel has the largest raptor migration in the world, with hundreds of thousands of African birds of prey crossing as they fan out into Asia.
* Twenty-four percent of Israel's workforce holds university degrees – ranking third in the industrialized world, after the United States and Holland – and 12 percent hold advanced degrees.
* Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.
* In 1984 and 1991, Israel airlifted a total of 22,000 Ethiopian Jews at risk in Ethiopia to safety in Israel.
* When Gold Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969, she became the world's second elected female leader in modern times.
* When the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya was bombed in 1998, Israeli rescue teams were on the scene within a day - and saved three victims from the rubble.
* Israel has the third highest rate of entrepreneurship - and the highest rate among women and among people over 55 - in the world.
* Relative to its population, Israel is the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on earth. Immigrants come in search of democracy, religious freedom, and economic opportunity.
* Israel was the first nation in the world to adopt the Kimberly process, an international standard that certifies diamonds as "conflict free."
* According to industry officials, Israel designed the airline industry's most impenetrable flight security. U.S. officials now look to Israel for advice on how to handle airborne security threats.
* Israel's Maccabi basketball team won the European championships in 2001.
* Israeli tennis player Anna Smashnova is the 15th ranked female player in the world.
* Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers was produced by Haim Saban, an Israeli whose family fled persecution in Egypt.
* In 1991, during the Gulf War, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra played a concert wearing gas masks as scud missiles fired by Saddam Hussein fell on Tel Aviv.
* Israel has the world's second highest per capita of new books.
* Israel is the only country in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees.
* Israel has more museums per capita than any other country.
* Israel has two official languages: Hebrew and Arabic.
* Medicine Israeli scientists developed the first fully computerized, no-radiation, diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer.
* An Israeli company developed a computerized system for ensuring proper administration of medications, thus removing human error from medical treatment. Every year in U.S. hospitals 7,000 patients die from treatment mistakes.
* Israel's Givun imaging developed the first ingestible video camera, so small it fits inside a pill. Used the view the small intestine from the inside, the camera helps doctors diagnose cancer and digestive disorders.
* Researchers in Israel developed a new device that directly helps the heart pump blood, an innovation with the potential to save lives among those with congestive heart failure. The new device is synchronized with the heart's mechanical operations through a sophisticated system of sensors.
* Technology With more than 3,000 high! -tech companies and start-ups, Israel has the highest concentration of hi-tech companies in the world (apart from the Silicon Valley).
* In response to serious water shortages, Israeli engineers and agriculturalists developed a revolutionary drip irrigation system to minimize the amount of water used to grow crops.
* Israel has the highest percentage in the world of home computers per capita.
* Israel leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce, with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 85 in the U.S., over 70 in Japan, and less than 60 in Germany. With over 25% of its work force employed in technical professions, Israel places first in this category as well.
* The cell phone was developed in Israel by Motorola, which has its largest development center in Israel.
* Most of the Windows NT operating system was developed by Microsoft-Israel.
* The Pentium MMX Chip technology was designed in Israel at Intel.
* Voice mail technology was developed in Israel.
* Both Microsoft and Cisco built their only R&D facilities outside the United States in Israel.
* Four young Israelis developed the technology for AOL Instant Messenger in 1996.
* A new acne treatment developed in Israel, the Clear Light device, produces a high-intensity, ultraviolet-light-free, narrow-band blue light that causes acne bacteria to self-destruct - all without damaging surroundings skin or tissue.
* An Israeli company was the first to develop and install a large-scale solar-powered and fully functional electricity generating plant, in southern California's Mojave Desert.
* The first PC anti-virus software was developed in Israel in 1979.

1 comment:

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