Israelis are by nature an impatient and forward-looking lot. This energy and creativity has been crucial for Israel’s rapid economic and technological development, but it has also prevented many from fully appreciating the economic miracle that has happened here – against all odds – in an unfavorable environment surrounded by hostile neighbors.
The strong Jewish tradition of self-criticism often confuses recognition of remarkable achievements with complacency. Half a century is a blink of an eye in the history of a nation. During this short time span, Israel was transformed from a poor and fragile third world country into a post-industrial high-tech powerhouse firmly rooted in the first world. Very few countries established after the Second World War, have achieved this kind of economic and technological progress. Economies like Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong and Taiwan spring to mind.
Yet, only Israel achieved this while fighting for its existence in a hostile neighborhood and while absorbing millions of mostly impoverished Jewish immigrants from the four corners of the world. A society that has to rebuild itself from scratch under harsh conditions and where failure is not an option develops strong survival skills. The Start-Up nation was in Israel’s DNA long before the country became synonymous with a technological and innovation powerhouse.
In their book,” Start-up Nation”, Dan Senor and Saul Singer write: “People prefer remembering to imagining. Memory deals with familiar things, imagination deals with the unknown”. Memory sustained the exiled Jewish people’s attachment to their ancient homeland throughout two millennia. However, only a powerful and relentless energy imagining a better future, could transform the Zionist dream into the reality of modern Israel. This powerful energy became the old-new nation’s response to the myriad of enormous challenges it faced. From its inception, Israel had no choice but to find solutions to its many challenging and pressing problems, civilian and military alike.
As late as the 1980s, Israel was struggling with a hyperinflation reaching 450%. Today Israel’s inflation is negligible. Facing the Second Intifada and a global economic recession in the early 2000s, Israel’s public debt reached 100 % of GDP. Today Israel’s public debt stands at 67% and is expected to continue falling while it is close to 100% in the US and most of the Euro zone. Until quite recently, Israel relied on foreign economic assistance. Today Israel is among the top 25 wealthiest countries in the world and a member of the OECD. The purchasing power of even the socio-economically weakest segments in Israeli society has increased dramatically over the years.
Israel did not merely find solutions to challenging problems. The Jewish state turned many disadvantages into advantages, thanks to hard work and ingenuity. Israel transformed from a country with an acute water deficit into a global leader in water-technologies, lending its expertise to third world countries and the US and Australia alike. Today’s world-renowned Israeli military technology industry is to a large degree a result of the French military boycott of Israel in 1967. The unlikely revival of the Hebrew language was so successful that Israel has become a role model for countries struggling to maintain threatened languages.
The Jewish people transformed dramatically through the rise of modern Israel. The same Jewish people, which throughout centuries of exile was defenseless, established one of the world’s most powerful military forces, the Israel Defense Forces. Hundred years ago, half a percent of world Jewry lived in the land of Israel, which was a backward province in the crumbling Ottoman Empire. When Israel was reestablished in 1948, 5 % of world Jewry resided in Israel. Today Israel is the home to nearly 50 % of the Jewish people.
Despite many pressing and unresolved challenges, Israel is ranked number 19 on the UN Human Development Index. Israelis are among the healthiest, happiest, most educated, and longest living people in the world.
Israel today faces many serious internal and external challenges that need to be addressed. But they pale in comparison to the enormous challenges that Israel and the Jewish people have already overcome.
Israel’s domestic and international detractors’ inability to see the forest for the trees has prevented them and many others from recognizing the remarkable miracle that is modern Israel. The late British historian Arnold Toynbee claimed that the Jewish people was a dinosaur, an extinct people like the Romans and the Babylonians. Yet, the history of the Jewish people has rarely followed the patterns of other nations.
The tiny Jewish nation has defied history and reinvented itself against all odds in its resurrected ancestral homeland, eyes firmly fixed on the future.