Friday, December 30, 2011

Israel at the End of 2011: Better than Ever

No, this blog is still dormant, as explained here. However, I still post every now and then, so the Google overlords won't delete the entire blog for having gone entirely silent. The end of 2011 is a good moment to reflect on Israel's condition, which, if you believe much of the media, is catastrophic. Growing numbers of folks dislike us, we're told, our isolation is growing ever more dire, our democracy is crumbling, we're forcing women into second-class status, America's Jews are turning away in growing disgust, and so on and on and on...

Well, no.

Back in my blogging days I used to propose three criteria for measuring the long-term robustness of Israel. So let's start with them:

Economics: While the European economy enters recession if not worse, and the American economy is in a protracted funk, the Israeli economy continutes to boom. Here, check it out at the Economist website, which tells that GDP is growing higher in Israel than in any European country, the US, and lots of other places too. Unemployment, you might be interested to hear, at 5.6%, is not only lower than in most countries, it's at its lowest in Israel for decades and by some estiamtes, the lowest ever. If things stay this way until the next elections there will be no need to speculate on how crazy the Israeli voters have become to re-elect that supposedly universally hated government: any government running for re-election with an economy like this would stand a fine chance of re-election.

The BDS campaign to destroy Israel is not obviously working, apparently.

Culture: is Jewish culture thriving, stagnating or declining in Israel? This is a rhetorical question. There's no measure I can think of by which to claim there's any stagnation or decline. It has been thousands of years since the Jews have had such a broad-based cultural creativity, which isn't surprising if you remind yourself that for the first time in millennia there are millions of Jews living in their language in their own society (and their own land).

How does cultural creativity fit into disappearing freedom of thought, you ask? It doesn't. The disappearing freedom and democracy exist only in the minds of a certain section of Israeli society and the multitudes of ignorant foreign reporters and politicians who avidly agree with them whenever they criticise Israel. Apart from them, it's not happening. There's a racuous debate about all sorts of things, of course, but in other countries that would be called democracy, not facism.

Demography: here the question is simple: are there more Jews in Israel today than a year ago. Of course there are. In an aside, there are growing indications that the demographic pendulum has peaked and is swinging back in favor of the Jews over Palestinians, whose birthrate is either declining or tumbling, depending on the data-sets one uses. (Here, for example).

Terrorism is mostly dormant, by Israeli standards. 2011 was one of the most peaceful years Israel has had since 1947. (The Palestinians had a rather peaceful year, too, since there's some correlation between the two).

The internal clash with the Haredi sections of society seems to be moving in two contradictory directions. The crazies are growing ever more crazy; but there's a long-term trend in which ever-growing numbers of Haredi are slowly acquiring modern education and entering the labor market; some thousands of young Haredi men are even finding their way into special programs in the IDF. I can't say which trend will ultimately be more important, but I feel confident in hoping for the better outcome.

The Arab revolutions seem likely to create ever more outlandish-looking societies. I don't see how normal Westerners (as distinct from the chattering classes) will look at them in 5, 10, or 15 years, and then look at us, and not prefer us.

You'll hear endless punditry about how bad off Israel's Arab citizens are. Well. The reality I see is that growing numbers of them are integrating into mainstream society. I have Israeli Arabs working under me, as well as alongside me, and they are just regular folks and treated as such. I see Arabs - Israeli citizens or East-Jerusalem permanent residents - everywhere: in markets, at the university, in professional groups, in hospitals, at universitities, and so on. Also in the hallways of the government ministries and even in classified installations.

Whinch brings me to my final point. I stopped blogging when I joined the civil service, and went behind a wall of security clearance and the need to shut up about it. Indeed, I won't report on what cannot be reported. But I will say that what I find there is very heartening. Alongside the usual, and universal, red-tape and mediocracy, there are large numbers of highly talented Israelis purposefully going about their jobs of making this a better country, stronger, more successful, better able to withstand whatever gets thrown at it.

Yes, there are lots of folks out there who dislike us, but that's always been so. These days we don't have to give them too much attention. Seen historically, 2011 was probably one of the best years in millennia of Jewish history.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Yaacov - an interesting comment which reminds me of this piece by Barry Rubin:

Anyhow, do please keep posting now and then to make sure your invaluable blog doesn't get deleted!

JG Campbell

Joe in Australia said...

They're not necessarily contradictory directions: if you assume that the Haredim entering the general labor market are more liberal, then the ones that remain will be less liberal.

Incidentally, the word verification query at the end of my post was sinfiter. Very appropriate!

Ruchie Avital said...

And further to Joe in Australia, the two trends could even be even more closely related. The fanatics are terrified that the mainstream Haredi society is integrating more closely into Israeli society. Their increased craziness is a direct result of the more pragmatic direction that much of Haredi society appears to be moving in. The more Haredim enter the work force, the more of this type of response we can expect to see.

Avigdor said...

@dywthmy53 It's an interesting hypothesis, but not supported by any noticeable societal trends within haredi society. You're going to have a hard time finding religious leaders drawing support in the Torah for spitting on little girls.

Some people just don't have limits. We have Jews like this in America too, but they're so few that shunning them is a manageable issue. In Israel, there are enough Jews that the crazies can get organized. Usually their neighbors and rabbis are their first victims.

But these people would go to the extreme no matter what they did in life. They happen to be religious so they go to the extreme in faith. If they were secular they'd be the atheist hoodlums defacing synagogues. It's something that requires therapy, the urge to impose one's version of purity on others.

It's the same within the settler movement. There are a handful of outcasts. Their neighbors keep the cops on speed-dial and are the first to admit these people should be locked up before they hurt someone.

Far too often, from what I've heard, Israeli police don't interfere in what they see as internal feuds within "gated" Israeli communities - be they settler, haredi, Arab, etc. They don't want to deal with issues they don't understand and don't want to be a target themselves. So by the time these radicals lash out at the general population, they already feel invincible, having established a fiefdom of fear in their surroundings.

What I don't understand is why a bunch of sane guys from within these communities don't get together and beat some sense into these lunatics. In general, I'm very pro extra-judicial beating as an alternative to jail time, with communal endorsement, of course.

sparrow said...

Thanks for the encouragement to "see things differently" from the usual media portrayal of Israel. Hurray for Israel, long may she prosper. Blessings to you from a tiny town in NZ.

The Stop BDS Team said...

Thank you for this optimistic report. It is good to hear from you.


Anonymous said...

I can only hope that 2012 will be the year when the Palestinians are awarded justice and an end to occupation.

milton said...

The power of positive thinking.

Barry Meislin said...

Great post (though I wish I could be more sanguine about the insanity that has been erupting from within the Haredi community---including the latest horrors in Nachlao't. Do we need this? Do they? And how does the wider society deal with it all when ignoring it is no longer an option?).

Great to hear from you. Thanks very much!

Anonymous said...


Great simple framework for the analysis. Maybe this could work as an alternative indicator for "Culture":