A little country

Little countries must look outward in order to prosper.   That means being multi-lingual and multi-connected, and it may mean avoiding firm connections that get in the way of the flexibility that is essential.    The need to import is obvious, insofar as a little country can‘t produce everything it needs.   The need to export is also obvious, having to pay for imports and to have something left over to finance development.   Israel fits the pattern also apparent in Belgium, The Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries, with the additional trait of having to deal with overt enmity and less overt suspicion reflecting–in part–a long history of anti-Semitism.    Residents of small European countries learn other languages in school and university. Israelis brought them from abroad, in many cases teach them to their children and/or keep them alive with special classes, as well as learn some of them in school and university.   Israelis can envy the small European countries, not only because they tend to be wealthier on a per capita basis, but because they are secure, spend almost nothing on defense, and their residents can travel just about everywhere with a limited need for visas and no concern for their safety other than the obvious care to stay away from dicey neighborhoods late at night.   Israel has developed itself into the league of the enviable. Over the course of 70 years it‘s come from backwardness and poverty with a population largely of miserable refugees to an economy (measured by GDP/c) that scores at or above the levels of France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Spain, Portugal, and Greece, and not too far below New Zealand, Belgium, Germany, and .   And all that accomplished–admittedly with some help from the US and Germany–while outspending just about every country–including the US–on security in per capita , plus being handicapped by a substantial ultra-Orthodox population whose males tend to avoid useful education, military service and gainful employment.   It‘s common for Israelis to complain about the health system and the schools, but the statistics show enviable scores in terms of overall health and education. There‘s some truth to the hyped-up image of the start-up country, with high levels of innovation and research laboratories associated with major international corporations.   Israel has also moved from being a pariah in the eyes of many in Muslim countries to having at least discrete economic, political and military relations with many of their governments. And while it passed through periods of being demonized by the Soviet Union, it now has more intimate relations with Russia‘s government than has the US and perhaps other major western governments. Language helps. Israel has a Russian speaking Defense Minister and a lot of its military personnel are fluent in Russian. They can speak with Russian military personnel over the border in Syria in order to keep at arms length. Attacking the Iranian side of a joint Iranian-Russian base without bothering the Russians reflects high levels of sensitivity and skill on both sides.   China and India at one time sided with the Arab boycott against Israel, and now are customers and investors. A controlling interest in Israel‘s major dairy producer, created in the 1920s by kibbutzim and moshavim, is Chinese owned.   Alas, the improvement of Israel‘s relations with former enemies has come along with a lessening of Isreal‘s standing among countries which had once admired it. And Israel is not yet so well placed among Muslim majority countries that its citizens can visit them freely and with security.   Israelis‘ worsening position in western countries may owe something to its success in holding off Muslim–and especially Palestinian–aggression. It‘s traded the image of the Biblical David for Goliath. And that‘s come along with a growing culture of supporting the weak that has spread throughout the west. This appears (ironically for Israel) with a recognition of the Holocaust, as well as the downfall of Apartheid in South Africa, the decline of colonial powers, feminism, and the destruction of legally enforced segregation/discrimination in the United States.   Now upper status Protestant denominations as well as high status campuses routinely consider and occasionally enact anti-Israel declarations, including commitments that organizational funds will not invest in companies controlled by Israel or that do business in Israel or in what the promoters of the action label as occupied territories.   It‘s easier to point to efforts at BDS than to describe its accomplishments. At least one campaign became more costly to Palestinians than to Israelis when a firm located in the West Bank with both Israeli and Palestinian workers and managers relocated into Israel, with the loss of Palestinians‘ jobs.   Israel has remained safe, but with a high incidence of casualties due to war and terror, and it has developed economically thanks to a flexibility that may have something to do with what the Jews learned over the centuries. Part of Israel‘s commerce is done through third countries in order to mask the Israeli origin. Israelis travel for work in certain countries (they cannot describe to friends and family members) via unmarked corporate planes, with which Israel has no open diplomatic relations or direct travel connections. Israelis working for government organizations in the security sector cannot report where they work or what they do. Some are honored surreptitiously for extraordinary accomplishments, in ceremonies not made public.   All this is part of a society with armed guards at entrances to shopping malls, schools, hospitals and universities, on the trams, and–when circumstances have required–at bus stops   For those of us old enough to have passed through anti-Jewish quotas in elite American universities, as well as the banning of Jews from prestigious neighborhoods and distinguished corporations, the security and success of Israel stands as testimony to what Jews can do when allowed to develop themselves without being limited as Jews.   Israel‘s latest accomplishment, if it can be called that, is for one of its principal antagonists, the ostensible President of Palestine, to reduce his international standing even further by what has been widely viewed as an overtly anti-Semitic rant at his party‘s ruling council.   Israel has become a crowded place with ghastly traffic, but not all that different from metropolitan areas elsewhere. Indeed, this New Jersey sized country may be best thought of as a metropolis rather than a country, especially in terms of its crowded center where most of the people live and work.    And among the problems of a small country are the limited opportunities to find one‘s place. Israelis, like the Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians and others, may locate a desirable place in their professions more easily in some other country.    It‘s like Americans who grow up in Providence or Portland, and find their jobs in Seattle or Dallas.    Family visits in all such cases require some travel, and the hassle at airports.    For close to a majority of the Jewish population, Israel‘s a place where one can benefit from Jewish culture without affiliation or attendance at a synagogue.   Comments welcome

— 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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