Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

National Viability & Vitality: The Israeli Case (9) – Summing Up the Future

This is the final of my weekly series of essays that looked at all seven major factors influencing the extent to which a country will flourish or decline: 1- National ambition and will; 2- Unified national identity; 3- Shared (equal) opportunity; 4- An active state apparatus/bureaucracy; 5- Effective institutions; 6- A learning and adapting society; 7- Social diversity and pluralism. However, before summing it all up and providing Israel with a “future score,” there are two things to take into account.

First, extrapolation from today to “tomorrow” can be problematic. Just because something has been moving in a certain direction for several years (or even decades) does not guarantee that it will continue to do so well into the future, even if there are no big surprises. One example should suffice: the women’s (mostly American) Suffrage movement worked for close to a century to expand women’s rights and give them some freedom from male domination – but it was slow and very incremental change. Then, “out of the blue” the “Pill” was introduced in the 1960s, very quickly leading to massive change in social mores, national fertility rates, and even a “Sexual Revolution.” Thus, although my analyses regarding Israel’s future was based on recent trends, I did try to estimate whether and to what extent they will continue into the foreseeable future. But again, I am not a Prophet!

Second, along the same lines but of even greater potential significance is a “Black Swan” occurrence. This is the term used by Nassim Taleb (in his similarly named 2007 book) to define a hard-to-predict, rare event that can have huge consequences if it ever does occur. A general example would be the huge meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, enabling “us” (homo sapiens) to eventually come into being. However, “rare” is a relative word, and in the case of human society something that happens once a century could also be considered a Black Swan. For Israel, there are three such occurrences that would change any evaluation of the country’s future – two would be devastating; the third a highly positive game changer.

First, a massive earthquake. Given that the Syrian-African Rift running down the eastern part of the country (Lake of Galilee; Jordan River Valley; Eilat) suffers one of these every century or so – the last one in 1927 – this isn’t really an “unexpected” event, although no one knows when it will occur. In any case, tens of thousands of buildings could collapse in Israel, including many old structures in the heavily populated, western, Greater Tel Aviv area. This would set back Israel’s economy by a decade or two. Despite seismologists’ warnings, the government has been very slow to address the issue (by mandating strengthening all vulnerable buildings – a hugely expensive task). In short, a disaster in the making.

Second, a nuclear attack. This is far less probable, if only because any attacking country would suffer a cataclysmic counterattack, thereby reducing the chances of such an initial assault. But we are talking about the highly turbulent Middle East, with several religiously fanatical governments that might see “Armageddon” as a religious prerogative. Moreover, such countries use proxies to attack Israel: if proxy “A” sends a nuclear bomb (that it cannot develop by itself) into Israel from somewhere hundreds of kilometers away from nuclear power “B” – does Israel counterattack “A” or “B”? Such complications can increase the chances of nuclear war. The chances of any of this occurring are slim – but “slim” is not “zero”.

The third “event” that today seems highly unlikely but “stranger things have happened,” especially in the Middle East (peace with Egypt only five years after its Yom Kippur War attack?!?), is some sort of final peace treaty with the Palestinians, and the ensuing boon (and boom) to Israel in all spheres of life. This is not the place to speculate how such a peace could come about – after all, it’s a Black Swan at this stage – but it too can’t be discounted out of hand.

So, leaving behind Black Swan events – but always keeping them in the back of our minds when talking about Israel’s future – how does it shape up when taking all seven above factors into account? I will now offer an overall “score” based on my previous analyses these past two months – understanding full well that it is not only quite subjective but speculative as well. To see how and why I arrived at these scores, you will have to read those previous essays, starting with I am using a 1-10 scale, with 10 being a “very rosy picture” and 1 being “disastrous.” Caveat emptor!

1- National ambition and will (9)

2- Unified national identity (7)

3- Shared (equal) opportunity (8)

4- An active state apparatus/bureaucracy (8)

5- Effective institutions (6)

6- A learning and adapting society (10)

7- Social diversity and pluralism (7)

All the elements score higher than a middling “5” with an overall average of almost “8”. This essentially means that Israel’s future (at least the next few decades) is net positive. On the one hand, this should not come as a great surprise; looking in objective fashion at its progress over the past 74 years (imagine you just landed on Earth from Mars and was given only two panoramic “pictures”: Israel in 1948 and in 2022), Israel’s social, economic, military, and technological advances have been nothing short of extraordinary. On the other hand, should you ask the average Israeli what s/he thinks of such a “future score” the answer would probably be incredulity. Why? Because Israelis love to complain (a mostly Jewish trait – not a simplistic “stereotype” but rather deeply embedded in the Judaic heritage). As with most human beings, we tend to look at: 1) what’s wrong… 2) in the here and now – and not how far we’ve progressed from the past, and why this bodes well for the future.

For sure, my analyses over the past several weeks has left out some negative trends – and some positive ones too. Nevertheless, the general thrust of Israeli society today is moving in a positive direction (possibly excepting institutional effectiveness). The future might not yet be now, but Israel’s now suggests a promising future.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) presently serves as Academic Head of the Communications Department at the Peres Academic Center (Rehovot). Previously, he taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published five books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see:
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