Israel at 65

A birthday party for a miracle.

Few countries have accomplished as much as the Jewish State of Israel has in 65 years of existence.  To avoid any misunderstanding, the 65 years refer only to its modern existence, not to the Two Israelite Jewish Commonwealths that included Kings David and Solomon, as well as Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Hashmonaim dynasty.  In between modern Israel and the two Commonwealths, the Jewish nation lived in exile, suffering persecution and ultimate genocide known as the Nazi Holocaust. Next week, the resurrected Jewish nation will celebrate its 65th birthday.

Progress in Israel is a daily reality.  If one has been away from the country for a year, he or she are likely to find new highways and additional high-tech office buildings sprouting up throughout suburban communities as well as in its major cities of Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv. The infrastructure in Israel is on a perpetual growth pattern, and so is its economy.

Addressing an audience that included ambassadors, business, and civic leaders in Paris on March 8, 2013, Angel Gurria , the Secretary General of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), said “In a very short period, Israel has become an important contributor to the OECD’s work.  It is now a full member of more than 100 committees and bodies, and vice-chairs 5 of them.  Its knowledge on key areas for the viability of our economies, like water management, ‘clean-tech’ and entrepreneurship, is becoming a source of best practices.  Its contribution to our privacy protection standards and consumer protection policy has been outstanding.  Its support to our work with the MENA countries is also highly valuable.”

Gurria added, “Israel is also making best use of its OECD membership, working with us to face crucial challenges, from making Israel a more inclusive society, designing more inclusive social policies, as well as labor market and vocational training policies; to incorporating new measures of progress as part of The Better Life Initiative; from expanding access to quality health care, to helping Israel make the most of its energy resources and develop better clean-tech clusters in places like the Negev region.”  He closed his remarks by saying “Israel’s rich history and cultural diversity are also bringing new perspectives to the OECD.  This is making us stronger.”

In the last 20 years, the Israeli economy grew by an astounding 270% while its population only grew by 145%.  The Per Capita Income for Israelis grew to $30,000, which put it in a respectable place among OECD countries.  Moreover, Israel’s unemployment rate is lower than that of the U.S., and far lower than the European states. The cumulative growth rates in Israel for the last five years stood at 21%, which is higher than all of the 34 member states of the OECD.

Last year was one of the best years for Israel’s high-tech exports, and in 2013, will exceed the 50% mark for overall exports. The level of flexibility in Israel’s exports, which is made up of thousands of companies that specialize in “niche” fields, and the diversification of the various economic sectors, enabled the Israeli economy to better meet the challenges of the slower global economy.  Israel has truly become a “Start Up Nation.”

The Economist (November 21, 2012) where-to-be-born index for 2013, placed Israel as number 20 out of 80, with a score of 7.23 out of 10.  The top country, Switzerland, scored 8.22.  This quality-of-life index links the results of subjective life satisfaction surveys; how happy people say they are, measured by objective determinants such as crime, trust in public institutions, and the health of family life.  In all, 11 statistically significant indicators are considered.

A Bloomberg survey found Israel’s health system to be the 6th best in the world.  Life expectancy for Israeli men is #2 in the world, while Israeli women are in fifth place.  Another “Happiness Index” survey in Israel found that in spite of Israeli perpetual Friday night ‘gripe sessions,’ Israelis are happier than most people in other western states.  Israel was placed 6th in the OECD survey, and in 14th  place out of 155 countries.

The Jewish state is not only serving its own people, it is serving the world.  War veterans suffering post-traumatic stress in the U.S.; farmers in Senegal, India and China; young women in South Sudan; the wheelchair-bound in Africa; cardiac patients in Gaza and Iraq have all received life changing help and expertise from Israeli specialists.

Israel is exporting far more than just technology.  It is also sharing its experience and skills in a whole range of humanitarian and environmental fields to help people everywhere live better, fuller and healthier lives.  Since its founding in 1948, Israel set out to be “a light unto the nations,” and despite the threats to its existence from its Arab neighbors, who waged war and terror on it, the Israeli government founded MASHAV, the Israeli Foreign Ministry Center for International Cooperation.  It has become a vehicle to share Israel’s creative solutions with the rest of the world.

While the news media has given scant attention to Israel’s contributions to the Third World in particular, Israelis are nevertheless working hard to find solutions and offer relief to some of the most pressing problems of our time.  Israelis are in the forefront of environmental breakthroughs that will reduce global greenhouse emissions.  Israelis have invented technologies that can increase food production and save vital crops. Concurrently, they initiated humanitarian aid missions in the wake of catastrophic natural disasters such as the Tsunami in Japan and super-storm Sandy in the U.S.

Israel will reach energy independence within 5 years and Israel is slated to become a major energy exporter within 7 years.  Cheap energy would encourage the emergence of new energy-rich industries, particularly in the sparsely populated Negev, such as aluminum production, and it would most likely replace the need for expensive imports.  In the near future, Israel will be a net recipient of revenue from energy sales. Israel’s Treasury Ministry estimates such income to reach about $18.3 billion a year, and as much as $550 billion in 30 years.

Israel’s economic growth, in contrast with the U.S. and European stagnation, should bring a flood of new immigrants to Israel.  Empirical studies have shown that economic factors rather than security considerations prompt people to move from country to country.  There are estimates that about 180,000 net immigrants are expected to land in Israel in the next 10 years.

Israel’s relatively young population (compared to other western nations) is another contributing factor in Israel’s economic growth.  According to a recent study by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, there has been a sharp (10%) rise in the birthrates of secular Jewish women (Primarily among immigrants from the former Soviet Union) and a decline among Arab (16%) and haredi Jewish (15%) women.  This is clearly indicative of the diminishing demographic threat to the Jewish state.

The security threats to Israel are unlikely to disappear however, but, a confrontational state such as Syria, which is experiencing a civil war and possible disintegration, might become a tactical problem rather than a strategic threat for Israel.  Democratization in the Arab world that might follow the failure of Islamist states (Egypt and Iran in particular) to bring economic, social, and political relief to their people will ease the security threats to Israel in the years to come.

The doomsayers could perhaps justifiably warn of increasing existential threats to Israel.  One mustn’t, however, ignore Israel’s growing strength in relation to its regional enemies. Israel’s sophisticated military, its vibrant society, political system and flourishing economy provides Israel with an unmistakable edge. As Israel celebrates its 65th birthday, I wish it to go from strength to strength.

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