Well, food, for most Israelis is not a problem.
Being needed, on the other hand, is something else!
Firstly, to deal with the food and general quality of life issue. Israel was ranked 15th out of 194 nations in, what is known as, the Human Development Index.(1) This index, which is part of the UN development programme, is based on the following criteria:
- A long and healthy life: life expectancy at birth
- Education index: Mean years of schooling and Expected year of schooling
- A decent standard of living : Gross National Income per capita
This rating places Israel, only 64 years after its creation as the Independent Nation State of the Jewish People (to give it the full title), in the category of “Very Highly Developed”.
Apart from this, a report recently published by Columbia University, on behalf of the UN Conference on Happiness, ranked Israel 14th out of almost 200 nations.. (2) ( much to the bewilderment of the average Israeli, who never ceases to complain)
Its suicide rate is half that of the USA or Canada, and in this index, 65 countries out of 107 had a higher rate. (3)
That is not to say that the proverbial land “flowing with milk and honey” is not without its social problems. As with all nations, developed or otherwise, there is always poverty. But this is, mainly, an academic judgment based on criteria, related to things like the “average national wage”. Poverty is always relative. Those below the, so called, “poverty line” here, would be not be thought of as poor in many other societies. Unfortunately, the largest section of those below the line are there for self induced reasons.
The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has a very low proportion of working heads of households. Some of the women work, but earn the minimum wage.
The Arab section also has a low work rate, frequently in poorly paid jobs, and, for cultural reasons, women rarely work.
Both the ultra -Orthodox Jews and the Arabs have considerably larger families than the secular population. Six or seven children is about the average, and families of ten, or more, children, are not uncommon.
Both of these groups exist on a mixture of social welfare, charitable donations and family support.
And, of course, there was the famous “Middle Class Revolt” of last summer which saw hundreds of tents pitched in major cities, and thousands of people demonstrating against, what they considered, unjust food pricing.
For many, this was viewed positively, as a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy. Well, we are unquestionably a democracy, but any country having 13 different political parties represented in a Knesset (parliament) of 120 members must have a special interpretation of what is a democracy.
It is ironic that, instead of being judged by achievements, which are incredible by any reasonably objective criteria, we have managed to become almost a pariah state.
Which brings me to the question of “need”.
Who “needs” Israel today? Well, the 7.9 million citizens that live here, for a start. And, contrary to popular belief, that includes the 1.6 million Arabs citizens who know upon which side their bread is buttered. It also happens to include around 200,000 illegal migrants, including tens of thousands of Black Africans who would have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from their “paradise on Earth” back to their homelands.
It is truly extraordinary that these people literally risk life and limb to come to a country that is so vilified by most of the world. It is also true that they do not fit into Herzl’s dream of a homeland for the Jews, but, in a perverse way, it is a tribute to what became the reality from that dream.
The world sees a different reality – well, not so much a reality, as a perception. We live in a world that Herzl, and our “Founding Fathers” – the pioneering Zionists – could never have envisaged in their wildest nightmares. They believed that the very existence of a Jewish Homeland would, in one fell swoop, solve the eternal problem of “the wandering Jew”.
What they misjudged was that the world had become used to the Jew as a figure of persecution.
The Jew was humble, the Jew was weak and subservient, the Jew was dependent on the goodwill, or not, of Gentile society. The support for the concept of a state for the Jews in Palestine was a mixture of biblical belief and, in later years, guilt, for what the world had knowingly allowed to happen to the Jews of Europe.
And when it came to the political and military reality, the world did not expect the fledgling Jewish state to survive the Arab onslaught that followed Ben Gurion’s declaration of that state in 1948. And, truth be told, didn’t much care. They had assuaged their collective conscience with a vote, and now it was up to the Jews.
I don’t believe that the world has ever really come to terms with the fact that the Jewish state DID survive. Not only survive, but emerge from the initial battles stronger, and with more territory than it had been willing to accept on the partition plan basis.
Even so, for as long as Israel was perceived as relatively weak, and always vulnerable to attack and annihilation from its neighbours, that part of the world that was not terribly well disposed towards Jews, metaphorically shrugged its shoulders and got on with its life.
Of course the events of June 1967 changed that perception for ever. And, in its own way, so did the war of October 1973.
Nevertheless Israel was still well regarded in some quarters, at least by those whose dislike of Jews was only superseded by their dislike of Arabs. It also suited some countries, especially America, to regard Israel as a bastion of Western Democracy, in a sea of Arab and/or Muslim dictatorships.
As Ehud Barak described it, Israel was “the Villa in the jungle”.
It was not for nothing that some regarded Israel as a “land based aircraft carrier” for the protection of Western ideals against Arab Nationalism and Russian Communism.
But, with the passage of time, political realities and alliances changed. Economic needs dictated political alliances. The growing financial influence of the Gulf states, the security situations in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, to mention a few, have all contributed to a shift in world opinion about Israel.
The Arab PR and propaganda machines have been working overtime, supported by Left wing organisations and NGO’s, heavily financed by European states who, despite their own desperate economic woes, manage to squeeze out a few tens of millions of Euros, to apply as much pressure as they can upon Israel.
And, it is against this background, that we celebrate our 64 years as a state.
So, who else “needs” us?
How about those Jews who choose NOT to live in Israel? The jury is still out on that one. There is no denying that Israel means something to some diaspora Jews. But it no longer seems to represent the “insurance policy” it once did. Of course, there are the “absentee landlord” Jews who are wealthy enough to purchase a property here, which they use for holidays, and as an emergency “bolt hole” in case they ever misjudge the level of anti-Semitism in their home countries.
But as for the rest, my sense is that with the passing of the years, their connection to Israel becomes more and more tenuous. Apart from the few motivated by religious conviction, the rest are happy enough to live as a minority among non-Jews. And, in America, and the UK, for example, happy also to marry into that society, and slowly give up their Jewish identity.
Alternatively, those that DO maintain a Jewish life style, do so within a diaspora concept, only paying lip service to an Israeli connection. And, in the worse case scenario, blame Israel for any actions which they feel are negative and reflect badly upon them and their “security”.
And, perhaps worse of all, those classical ” self hating Jews” who seem to have made it their mission in life to berate Israel at every possible opportunity, under the guise of supporting “a different kind of Zionism”. Indeed, some of them seem to have made a career out of Israel bashing.
I really DO mean a career!
Academics and others who go on the lecture circuit, publish books and receive all kinds of financial support in support of their views on how Israel should act. They really need us!
And, how about the rest of the world? Does it “need “us?
It would be hard pressed to find another punching bag, or whipping boy, or any other suitable metaphor that comes to mind. It isn’t so much that Israel is a soft target, but it has one benefit that is unique.
It’s full of Jews! All those Jews concentrated in a land that represents about one hundredth of one percent of the world’s land mass. What better target could there be – figuratively and literally.
The literal aspect is, of course, occupying the thoughts of most Israelis at this time. We know we made it to the 64th anniversary and, probably we’ll make it to the 65th. After that……………….?
What would the world do without us? The country you love to hate.
Oh, didn’t I tell you before?
This is one survey I left till last.
A new poll commissioned by the European commission shows that Europeans in 15 countries believe that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace; greater even than North Korea, Iran or Afghanistan (4)
Now that’s a sobering thought after 64 years of Statehood
Happy Independence Day!
Andyboy – Telling it as it is!
To John Lennon and Paul McCartney for the lyrics of “When I’m 64”
- Netanyahu: Israel is in great shape, if you take haredim and Arabs out of the equation (haaretz.com)
- Israel’s future and the nation-state (thejc.com)
- Bank of Israel chief: Inequality, poverty are key long-term challenges (jta.org)
Animated Flag: http://www.crossed-flag-pins.com/animated-flag-gif/flags-israel.html