Home inFocus Celebrating Israel at 60 (Spring 2008) Despite Rejection and Isolation, Israel Keeps Giving

Despite Rejection and Isolation, Israel Keeps Giving

Richard Baehr Spring 2008

In 60 short years as a modern state, Israel has become a nation of remarkable achievements. Over 2.9 million Jews have moved to Israel since 1948 from Africa, Arab nations, Europe, India, Latin America, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, not to mention 1.1 million persons from the former Soviet Union. Over the years, the Israeli population has grown from an estimated 750,000 to over 7 million. This includes a Christian and Muslim Arab population that comprises nearly 20 percent of the current population. Thanks to basic laws that defend democratic principles, all of these peoples and religions are provided the opportunity to join the Israeli “melting pot,” similar to that of the United States.

The unlikely story of Israel does not end there. Israeli entrepreneurship and research have improved the lives of people in a variety of areas: medicine, agriculture and irrigation, communications, computer technology, security, aviation safety, alternative energy development, business services, and disaster relief and rescue, to name just a few. This has been accomplished by a nation with barely 0.1percent of the world’s population, which has been forced, due to the unremitting enmity of its neighbors, to devote an astronomical 10 percent of its GDP to defense.

Despite these amazing achievements, no country in the world is more roundly rejected by the community of nations.

Location, Location, Location

It is Israel’s misfortune to be the only non-Muslim state located in the center of the Arab world. Reborn in war in 1948, Israel has never since been free from the threat of war or terror directed against its population from surrounding state and non-state actors.

Despite repeated attempts (some successful) to make peace with its neighbors, Israel is treated as a pariah state. While most of the criticism is focused on the measures that Israel takes to prevent its citizens from being harmed by terrorism, the scorn can be traced back to the very founding of the state. Indeed, the anger at Israel persists, not because of its policies, which have shifted dramatically over the years, but because many of Israel’s Arab neighbors still do not want to recognize it. This is the case despite peace agreements with two of its neighbors – Egypt and Jordan – in addition to intermittent peace negotiations with the Palestinians for 15 years. In fact, the isolation and hostility have, if anything, worsened.

International Isolation

Israel’s isolation is not only regional. Approximately 40 percent of all resolutions passed by the United Nations at the behest of Arab nations have condemned Israel for its security policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians or Arab nations. Human rights commissions, and international courts have convicted Israel of all kinds of alleged violations of international law and international human rights standards, while ignoring truly atrocious human rights violations, including suicide bombings, and the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars at Israelis. They also neglect to mention the continued threats to “wipe Israel off the map” (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) or “drive the Israelis into the sea” (Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar).

While Israel fights for its survival, the international community routinely calls Israel’s very legitimacy as a nation into question. Entire international conferences such as those at Durban in 2001, and the upcoming “Durban 2” are devoted to the “scourge” of Zionism.

In the face of this constant drubbing, Israel has repeatedly sought to explain itself to the world. Efforts at hasbara, or public relations, have repeatedly failed. The Palestinians have cornered the “victim” market, making it nearly impossible for Israel to gain world sympathy. Israel has thus taken upon itself to create a “rebranding” program, to attempt to communicate its achievements and contributions, instead of the steady and unrelenting coverage of war, terrorism, and the rebuke from other nations and international bodies that issue most reports on the country.

Business and Technology

For 60 years, Israel has given the world the products of its high tech society. These are innovations to make life better for billions of people on the planet. Quietly, Israel has become one of the world’s leading technology, science, and medical research centers.

Much of Israel’s innovation can be traced to an unusually well-educated workforce. Israel has the highest number of university degrees per capita in the world, with a high concentration of them in science, medicine, and engineering. Half of Israelis with degrees also hold advanced degrees. This commitment to higher education occurs in a country where most students do not even begin university study until after their military service is completed, usually at age 22. Israel’s science and technology universities – including the Technion, Weizmann Institute, and Talpiot program of the Israel Defense Forces – graduate some of the best-trained scientists and engineers in the world.

Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation in the world, and has one of the highest rates of per capita patents filed. Israel is the nation with the highest number of scientists and technicians per 1,000 in the workforce, with far higher levels than in the U.S., Japan, and Germany. Over 25 percent of Israel’s workforce is employed in technical professions, putting Israel first in the world in this category, too.

Thus, it is not by accident that Israel trails only the United States in the number of startup technology companies. In fact, Israel ranks behind only the United States and Canada in NASDAQ-listed companies. It is also number two in the world in the allocation of venture capital funds, after the United States. Israel is the only country outside the United States where Cisco Systems and Microsoft have located R & D facilities. Google, IBM, and Intel all have large operations in Israel.

In the area of software and communications, products that are a part of every day life around the world owe their development to Israel’s high tech industry. These include: voice mail technology, AOL’s Instant Messenger, Intel’s Pentium 4 microprocessor and Centrino chipsets, most of the Windows NT and XP operating systems, the original cell phone made by Motorola, the first PC anti-virus software, the first key-chain storage system, the largest communications router in the world from Cisco, and other advanced computerized security systems.

Thanks to these innovations, Israel has achieved remarkable and consistent economic growth, with a current per capita income of approximately $20,000 per resident, and a GDP approaching $150 billion. Indeed, Israel has become a developed country, much like many of the nations in Western Europe.

Tikkun Olam

Israel’s relative wealth is only one part of the picture. One of the bedrocks of the Jewish faith is a concept known as tikkun olam, or repairing the world. As such, Israel has emerged as a leader in the field of medicine and medical research. Indeed, Israel has been on the cutting edge of embryonic and adult stem cell research, including research in neurodegenerative disease, such as ALS, and the regeneration of heart tissue.

Israeli researchers developed the first instrumentation to diagnose breast cancer without radiation, the first ingestible video camera inside a pill to view the small intestine for cancer and digestive disorders, and a computerized system to ensure proper administration of medications in institutional settings. They also developed the Ex-Press shunt to treat glaucoma, and were in the forefront of the introduction of both bare metal and drug-eluting stents.

Israelis developed a device that helps the heart pump blood, a blood test for MS, a new acne treatment that causes bacteria to self-destruct without damaging skin or tissue, a vaccine against mosquito-borne West Nile virus, a new painless device to allow diabetics to inject themselves with insulin, a device for monitoring coronary disease inside a cell phone, a bone “glue” for faster recovery from injuries, a DNA nano-computer to detect cancer and release drugs to treat the disease, and a nose drop that serves as a five-year flu vaccine.

Due, in part, to its innovations in medicine and, in part, to the fact that Israel has too much experience with disaster resulting from war, Israelis are on the cutting edge of search and rescue. Israeli teams are often called on to help locate and rescue victims after earthquakes and other natural disasters. The experience and knowledge gained in rescuing Israelis from buildings and buses blown apart by terrorists, have been applied to save victims of natural disasters in Turkey, Greece, Mexico, Cameroon, India, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Armenia, Georgia, and Sri Lanka, as well as victims of violence in Bosnia, Romania, Kenya, Kosovo, Rwanda, Argentina, and Cambodia.

Green Machines

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, had a dream of “turning the desert green.” While Ben Gurion was dreaming of expanding Israeli agriculture to arid environments, subsequent generations of Israelis had different visions of “green.” Israel is now a leader in environmentally-friendly technologies.

Israel is the only country in the world that is rapidly increasing its number of trees. Israelis developed and installed (in California) the first large-scale solar powered and fully functional electricity generating plant. Israeli scientists have developed sensors that pick up signs of stress in plants, the technology for an all electric bus for urban use, an engineless nano remote-piloted vehicle, the world’s first jellyfish repellent, a toilet system with small and large flushes that saves billions of gallons of water per year, and a nano-lubricant that could end the need to change car oil.

All the while, Israel continues to chase Ben Gurion’s dream. With the help of science, Israelis have made vast desert areas of their country bloom. They have done so through special drip irrigation and water desalination systems that Israeli scientists and agronomists have since introduced on all five continents, including projects in India, China, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, and Jordan.

Looking Back

What is particularly remarkable about these achievements is that Israel has created all of it amidst a constant barrage of terrorist attacks, not to mention full-scale wars every few years. As such, Israel has shown that it is a resilient nation; it will not be brought to its knees by war, terror, boycotts, and international isolation. Unfortunately, this success is one more source of intense envy and resentment for Israel’s Arab neighbors; Israel is a key innovator in modern science and technology, and they are not.

As Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary in May 2008, the Palestinians will expectedly mark the day as al-Naqba, the disaster. To the continued amazement of those who understand Israel’s achievements in recent decades, much of the world will offer its condolences to the Palestinians, and share the Palestinian belief that the world might have been better without Israel’s creation in 1948.

For the foreseeable future, most of the world (with the United States as the principal exception) will continue to enjoy the innovations that Israel produces while simultaneously berating the Jewish state for defending itself. For its part, Israel will continue to provide the world with the fruits of its labor with the ironic hope that, one day, the Jewish state will simply be seen as one state among many.

Richard Baehr is a visting fellow at the Jewish Policy Center, and co-founder and political director of The American Thinker, a web-based policy journal.