Israel has world-class economy

With only seven million people and no natural resources, Israel has achieved amazing results.When one evaluates today’s miracle economies, that designation usually is reserved for China, India, the Southeast Asian Rim and Brazil. Even Vladimir Putin’s Russia has used its energy dominance to accumulate the world’s third-largest currency reserves of $250 billion.

But no one, with the exception of Berkshire-Hathaway owner Warren Buffett, would put tiny Israel into that category.

After buying 80 percent of an Israel-based, world-class tool company for $4 billion, in addition to several smaller adjunct concerns, Buffett called the embattled Jewish state one of the world’s most productive on a per capita basis.

With a sparse 7 million population, no natural resources and all borders being totally surrounded by enemies, Israel has achieved mind-boggling results. This was accomplished despite a 30-day war with Lebanon-based Hizbullah last summer and the need to keep its population on constant alert through universal military training and a 25-year reserve commitment.

In spite of these hardships, Israel has been admitted to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which consists of the 30 leading economies in the world. This will improve Israel’s credit rating, yielding a substantial reduction of risk premiums for the financing of the coming multibillion-dollar infrastructure prospects.

It also will accelerate the flow of overseas investments in Israel. Economic statistics tell a big part of the story.

The International Monetary Fund projects a 4.8 percent growth for Israel for 2007, one of the highest in the industrialized world, trailing only Hong Kong, Singapore and Ireland, respectively. Inflation is negative, while unemployment is projected to decrease to 7 percent from 9 percent in 2005.

Gross domestic product growth particularly is impressive, projected at a 5.1 percent annualized rate compared to 3.1 percent in the European economic community and 2.3 percent in the United States during 2007. Israel’s just-announced first quarter came in at an even higher 6.3 percent.

Israel also has become one of the world leaders in annual military arms sales with $4.4 billion in 2006, an all-time record for that beleaguered nation, with 75 percent sold overseas.

With a GDP per capita of almost $20,000, far higher than any of the oil-rich Arab countries, Israel is the “go-to country” when it comes to high technology.

One in 10 Israelis works in the tech sector. Some 3,500 startup companies were created within Israel’s 7 million population last year, second only to the United States with 300 million inhabitants.

Under finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a once and possibly future prime minister, Israel took a giant step toward privatization, including banks and communications networks.

Israel increasingly is being considered worldwide as an alternative to Silicon Valley, with 90 percent of venture capital coming from foreign investors, mostly from the United States.

Such venture capitalists as Silicon Valley’s Greylock Partners have set up offices in Israel, with a $150 million dedicated expansion fund. Fifty-seven Israeli technology companies were sold last year to overseas buyers for a total of $90 billion, six times the value of 2004.

Microsoft is hiring 150 research and development people for its second R&D center in Israel, in addition to 200 persons already working at the company’s R&D center in Haifa.

Intel-Israel also has been responsible for that chipmaker’s recovery due to a freelance design bureau 7,400 miles from Silicon Valley. Intel credits Israel’s mavericks with new approaches that saved Intel from processing setbacks, according to CEO Paul Otelini.

Today, Israel has more scientists and engineers proportional to its population than any country in the world, including the United States. Israel’s stock exchange has been booming, including its investments in Africa, Moscow, Germany, United States, China and Finland.

Israel also has become a global leader in water and environmental technologies, planning to increase its current research staff from 1,700 to 8,000 in the next five years.

A consortium of Nokia Siemens has announced expansion of their Israel R&D operations (350 persons) while shrinking their global workforce by 15 percent. The consortium’s only non-Finland and non-Germany operations are in the United States, China and Israel.

One may or may not believe that Israel is God’s country, but it certainly seems to be enjoying divine blessings.

(Originally appeared in the Palm Springs Desert Sun)

No choice but to use heavy hand in Gaza

What would the Americans do were the Mexicans to fire rockets on San Antonio? What would the Americans do were the Mexicans to fire rockets on San Antonio? What would the Russians do were the Ukrainians to fire rockets on Moscow? What would the Indians do were the Pakistanis to bomb New Delhi?

Would they also be prepared to take quietly what the residents of Sderot have had to take on a daily basis? Would they also make do with sending a plane to intercept a jeep carrying the rockets? Or would they bomb and shell and destroy and kill until the Mexicans, or the Ukrainians, or the Pakistanis stopped shooting and begged for a bit of peace and quiet? Is there any doubt about that?

Moreover, what would the Israelis do were 20 Kassam rockets to explode in Tel Aviv on a daily basis? Continue to go about business as usual? Make do with a ‘measured’ response? Or would they shell the ‘sources of fire’ until the Palestinians said uncle. Is there any doubt about that?

The demand that we enter Gaza and ‘put things in order’ there is foolish machismo. We’ve been there and we gathered up our soldiers’ body parts wearing plastic gloves. We weren’t able to put anything in order there. If we go in they’ll kill a few of our soldiers every day, and in the end we’ll withdraw in disgrace.

Because we are incapable of stopping the Kassam rocket fire. Only the Palestinians can do that. And they will do that only after they understand that firing Kassam rockets at the northern Negev isn’t worth the damage it causes. Only after they understand that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are causing the residents of Gaza agonies that they cannot and will not pay for the pleasure of having Sderot shelled.

In order for the Palestinian population to rise up against the people firing Kassam rockets we are going to have to respond to every Kassam rocket with massive bombing at the ‘sources of fire’. It is true that this course of action will cause damage, suffering and death among the civilian population. It is true that it runs against the grain of our humane sentiments. It is true that the television footage out of Gaza will raise an outcry in public opinion throughout the world against us. It is true that the UN and the other powers will apply heavy pressure on us.

All of those troubles put together do not outweigh the fact that a country ceases to be sovereign when it allows its neighbor to bomb it. There is something insane in the fact that we engage in debate with ourselves and the world, calm diplomatic debate over whether we are allowed to or forbidden to use everything – everything! – to put an end to the grave assault on our sovereignty, the destruction of our homes, the danger to our citizens’ lives.

If there were even the smallest chance that this enormous restraint would bring peace any closer I might think differently. But the fact that we regard with such indulgence attacks on our population in the northern Negev does not bring peace any closer; it pushes it farther away. Because it signals to the Palestinians that it is possible to attack us and ultimately to defeat us one step at a time, Kassam before Katyusha (which will soon be upon us), Sderot before Ashkelon, Ashkelon before Ben-Gurion Airport, Ben-Gurion Airport before Tel Aviv. That is no empty threat. It is the logic that stems from the dynamic of the process.

He who refrains today from using a heavy hand will need a far heavier hand in the future.

(Originally appeared in Ma’ariv)

Expanding the Israeli prism

Why not focus on the fact that Israel is a developed, valuable modern democracy?The international media continues to refract every Israeli issue through the prism of the Palestinian question but the occasion of Israel’s fifty-ninth birthday last month presented an opportunity to step back from the ongoing conflict and take stock of its many accomplishments. For since its foundation in 1948 when, to borrow Seamus Heaney’s phrase, 2,000 years of Jewish ‘hope and history finally rhymed,’ Israel has established itself as a highly-developed, modern democratic state and a major player on the international stage.

For example, Israel is today a global force in the field of in science and technology. Given its tiny size and lack of natural resources, it has developed a sophisticated high-tech economy and today ranks first in the world as regards the percentage of scientists and technicians in the workforce.

Boasting the world’s highest ratio of university degrees per population, it produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation and has one of the highest per capita rates of patents filed. Unsurprisingly then, Israel enjoys the highest concentration of high-tech companies outside of Silicon Valley – global giants such as Microsoft, IBM, Intel and Cisco have established major research and development centers there. Voicemail and internet instant messenger technologies were both developed in Israel and Israeli scientists also designed and developed Intel’s Pentium MMX technology and much of Microsoft’s Windows NT operating system.

This technological know-how has been applied to agricultural science with impressive results. Israel’s tri-annual Agritech exhibition, which showcases the latest technological innovations, attracts thousands of farming professionals from over 100 countries. Companies such as Agroproject provide agricultural consultancy services to private enterprises, public sector customers and international aid organizations working in the developing world, most recently in Afghanistan and Angola.

With 60% of its land defined as ‘arid,’ Israel has become the world leader in developing desert farming techniques such as drip irrigation, solar energy harnessing, brackish water fish farming, algae cultivation and desalination and, one hundred years after the first aliya, its deserts continue to bloom ? Israel is the only country with an annual net gain in its number of trees and over 50 million Israeli flowers were sent to Europe last Valentine’s Day.

Scientists travel from all over the world to study at Ben Gurion University’s Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies and the UN has publicly acknowledged its expertise in this field. Israel is also leading the way in water treatment technology and it is expected that, by the end of the decade, Israeli farmers will get half their water supply from recycled wastewater.

Medicine is another field in which Israel has excelled. Israeli scientists have been responsible for many recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, Hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis and breakthroughs have also been reported in the areas of umbilical stem cell research and ovarian tissue transplantation.

Israeli pharmaceutical companies such as Teva and Abic produce some of the world’s leading therapeutic drugs while the medical device industry is considered the most sophisticated in the world with Israel ranking first in the world in patents per capita. Recent innovations include the world’s first ingestible “camera in a capsule” for the diagnosis of gastrointestinal conditions from Given Imaging; the ClearLight anti-acne device; and InSightec Haifa’s development of the ExAblate 2000 system which provides a non-invasive alternative to the treatment of tumors.

Israel’s medical achievements are now being recognized. For instance, two Israeli scientists won the 2004 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their medical research while the Technion’s Shulamit Levenberg was included in last year’s prestigious Scientific American 50 for her work on the creation of lab-manufactured organs for transplant.

And in November 2006, Dr. Hossam Haick of Nazareth was awarded a grant under the EU’s Marie Curie Excellence program to further his development of an artificial olfactory system that can detect and diagnose cancer in the earliest possible stages.

But Israel’s scientific and technological pre-eminence has not been achieved at the expense of its cultural life. As a melting pot of European, Middle Eastern and African cultural traditions, it has also made a rich contribution to the world of the arts.

Pinchas Zuckerman, Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim are today legends in the world of classical music while Dan Ettinger, Yaron Gottfried and Asher Fisch are tipped as the faces of the future. Israeli musicians have also had a significant impact on the New York jazz scene and popular artists such as Ivri Lider and Idan Raichel singing in Hebrew, Arabic and Amharic are making their mark abroad.

Israeli authors such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman are feted throughout the literary world (Israel has the second highest publication of new books per capita in the world) while the poetry of Yehuda Amichai ranks among the greatest of the 20th century. Meanwhile, increased funding under the New Cinema Law 2000 has helped put the Israeli film industry on the international map. There are today ten film schools and seven international film festivals in Israel and movies such as The Syrian Bride, Sweet Mud, The Bubble, Beaufort and West Bank Story have recently won world prizes.

Even though the Palestinian issue looms large within the context of Israel and the world, the international media should occasionally take time to look beyond the conflict and acknowledge six decades of these impressive Israeli achievements.

My Jerusalem

Change is inevitable in any city, let alone one with a 3,000-year-old history.

A classmate of mine at university once recounted the tale of her visit to an African country in the early 1960s where she was detained by the border control official who became suspicious after seeing her place of birth listed as Jerusalem. Until that encounter, he had never realized that Jerusalem existed as a real city rather than just as a heavenly concept.

Jerusalem tends to be idealized like that. There often seem to be two Jerusalems existing alongside each other. Not west and east. More the heavenly and the earthly.

Many psalms, songs and poems have been written about Jerusalem over the years, nay, millennia. Recently I found myself singing along to “Yerushalayim sheli,” (My Jerusalem), in which lyricist Dan Almagor records the Jerusalem of various characters, among them: “The peddler from Mazkeret Moshe” for whom Jerusalem “is Mahaneh Yehuda [market] on festival eves”; “the cobbler from Katamon” whose Jerusalem is “a tenement without a store and hopping on the bus”; and “the bathhouse attendant” from Mea She’arim whose Jerusalem is “the whisper of a prayer of days to come.”

My Jerusalem is yet something else. Ahead of Jerusalem Day on May 16, which this year marks the 40th anniversary of the city’s reunification, an endless parade of politicians, social commentators and artists have been interviewed in the Israeli media on their views of Jerusalem’s past, present and future. Everyone has a different perception of the capital, colored by their own experiences. For me, Jerusalem is simply home. And I love it.

Jerusalem is the city of contradictions. They say that cleanliness is next to Godliness. If that was so, Jerusalem would have to forgo its name as the Holy City. Jerusalem is not perfect. There are pockets of poverty and profound social problems. Its residents can be nosey and noisy (or caring and carefree depending on my mood). The security situation makes being alert second nature to Jerusalemites. At the height of the Palestinian hostilities, my neighbors quipped that it must be the only capital in the world where people are scared to go out during the day but feel safe on the streets at night. There is the sound of never-ending construction and the silence of ancient graves like the impressive Absalom’s Tomb. One of the liveliest areas, with its cafes and boutiques, is Emek Refaim the Valley of the Ghosts.

My Jerusalem is not that of a tourist. Most visitors don’t end up in a Hadassah University Hospital ward. Neither, apparently, do all those critics who talk of an apartheid policy. Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses work to help Jewish and Arab patients, without differentiation.

Natural coexistence is also evident at the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo, where Arabs and Jews secular and ultra-Orthodox enjoy themselves side by side.

The leopard might not lie down with the kid, but there are signs that it’s not such a fantastical notion. Anything is possible at a zoo which receives food for the animals from the traditional priestly tithes.

The Jerusalem I live in has a (tiny) Natural History Museum where the model dinosaur is called Zrubavel (Zerubbabel), after the hero who led the return of the Jews from Babylonian exile. It has the Bible Lands Museum; the

world-class Israel Museum; the hands-on Science Museum; and the Islamic Art Museum where you can pass the time looking at its clock collection. For the best view of Jerusalem’s history (and the city itself) climb to the top of the Tower of David Museum.

The Western Wall is in my Jerusalem. Known to the tourists as the Wailing Wall, a name most Jerusalemites detest, my nephew as a four-year-old renamed it the Wishing Wall. I tend to ‘use’ the Kotel rather than visit it. It’s only a bus ride away, and when I really want God to get the message, I feel it’s worth traveling there to hand-deliver a note with a prayer into the ancient cracks.

Yad Vashem also exists in my Jerusalem, a monument to prayers that went unanswered. Many cities around the world now ‘boast’ Holocaust museums. But my late Austrian-born aunt visiting Jerusalem from England once noted: “Yad Vashem is the only place I can go to say Kaddish.” No museum in the world can provide a suitable venue for reciting the Prayer for the Dead for those

who have no graves.

But my Jerusalem is more about life. Catch the classics played by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra; watch contemporary theater at the Khan; the best foreign films appear at the Cinematheque; the box-office hits are available in the suitably commercialized malls. There’s the top-rate Israel Festival and Puppet Festival, and amateur performances galore. (My Jerusalem definitely includes JEST, the Jerusalem English-Speaking Theater.) When the money runs out, there are the free performances of street theater. In fact, just watching the world go by over a drink in one of the many coffee shops is cheap entertainment.

People are crazy about places like Paris. In Jerusalem, they GO crazy. No other city inspires its own medically recognized syndrome a psychosis that afflicts normally sane tourists who start hearing voices other than what the rest of their group is hearing (“For you, I make a special price…”).

Jerusalem often drives me crazy. If it¹s a peaceful Jerusalem you seek, stay away from the No. 18 bus where passengers argue over everything from the lack of seats to politics even though they all seem to support Bibi.

My Jerusalem is centered around the Katamonim where every Betar Jerusalem win is announced by honking car horns. On a Friday afternoon, it sometimes seems the whole neighborhood smells of kubbeh, freshly-shampooed kids, and the bunches of flowers sold by the weekly vendors.

For relaxation, I go to the Jerusalem Pool, where in the changing room I can also catch up on the local gossip and hottest summer plans.

On a Saturday afternoon, I can usually be found along with many, many others in San Simon Park, near the Greek monastery. The site of a bitter battle in 1948, it is now a wonderful playground where the kids run free, Israel-style, and their parents aren’t afraid to let them out of their

sight.

Jerusalem has changed over the years. Whatever happened to the man who used to sell hot corn on the cob at the traffic circle next to Beit Elisheva? Or the man who used to ask Kfir Cinema patrons not to litter or make a noise in the age BEFORE cell-phones?

Their Jerusalem, too, was different. But, then, change is inevitable in any city, let alone one with a 3,000-year-old history.

(Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post)

Why Africa needs Israel

Sharing Israel’s expertise will enable African countries to forge ahead on the path of development.There are numerous reasons why nations need each other to survive in today’s world. The rapid advancement of science and technology coupled with other development trends including globalization, have made nations more interconnected and transformed the way in which international matters are being conducted.

Africa and Israel share similar aspirations in respect to peace and stability, development and prosperity. They enjoy historical relations that in some cases predate the independence of the countries. In fact, Jewish settlement in Kenya started at the beginning of the 20th Century. The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation was established in 1904, well before Kenya’s independence in 1963.

Africa as a member of the international community needs dependable allies to participate effectively in international affairs. Maintaining close relationship with Israel is a sure way of, mutually cultivating and solidifying beneficial cooperation in political, economic, scientific and technological, academic and cultural fields among others.

Bilateral relations between African countries and Israel have expanded considerably. More than three quarters of African countries maintain diplomatic relations with Israel. However, the ties need strengthening to make them mutually productive. Political engagement has picked but exchange visits at the higher levels remains lackluster or lopsided and needs revamping.

Africa’s focus is not to dwell on the past, since more is in the present and the future. We believe the two have a lot to gain and learn from each other if the relations can move to the next level.

Africa is the largest developing continent. It is endowed with immense natural resources but at the same time, it is lesser integrated into the global system. Half a century ago, African countries were at the same level of development with Singapore, and Malaysia.

Israel was also a young nation. The current standing of most African countries pales in comparison to Israel and other countries. They have been unable to move with the changing tide and either have remained stagnant or only made marginal improvements in their lives.

Development is a shared responsibility between those who have succeeded and those who have not. Globalization has created profound changes in the world; shrunk distances in both time and space and entrenched interdependence of nations as the fulcrum of international relations. Issues that were local problems are now global and require a global approach.

Israel’s development has surpassed many obstacles, diversified its economy and managed to put up a fast growing high tech sector leading to its becoming a developed, economically advanced and industrialized country.

Moreover, Israel is an influential member of the international community and is in a position to help influence decisions made on African countries as they look for endorsement and recognition by the international community. Hence, Africa desires to coordinate positions with Israel at bilateral and multilateral levels to benefit from the process of Globalization.

The intricate and enormous challenges in Africa entail solutions from both within and outside the continent. Regional and internal political conflicts, some of them fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources, are destroying countries, and tearing whole societies apart. The result is disruption to universal peace, security and stability.

As much as it is Africa’s responsibility to deal with these issues, the causes are at times complex, demanding collaboration others. In some cases, the continent lacks the means or technology to confront the problems. On counter terrorism, Africa needs to work with the international community, as it is a global responsibility.

African countries also lack basic, scientific and technical means to address diverse challenges of environment, water and information, health, and agriculture technologies.

Israel is a pioneer in scientific and technological innovations and its highly skilled human capital of engineers, scientists and doctors is a hallmark of the country. Sharing the innovative solutions and expertise will enable African countries to acquire the relevant skills they need to forge ahead on the path of development.

A number of countries benefit from cooperation under MASHAV and others institutions. However, there is need to expand it to accommodate more people.

Africa remains optimistic. According to World Bank Kenya Country Director Collin Bruce, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria have the potential to become the key economic empires in the continent similar to the Asian tigers. African countries are undergoing political and socio-economic renewal in order to reduce poverty and join the ranks of those that have achieved sustainable development.

Trade barriers and agricultural subsidies in industrialized countries are a main handicap to Africa. The African countries want to see Israel increase investment in Africa, and to buy more from Africa. They also want Israel’s help to access third country markets for their commodities, minerals and oil.

Israel has advanced technology, which we hope to use to achieve value addition in manufacturing. Opportunities also exist in joint venture partnerships in tourism, infrastructure development, and agriculture and water technologies.

It is further our expectation that closer cooperation will help balance the two-way trade that is largely in favour of Israel. In addition, Israel being equidistant between Africa, Europe and Asia can act as a bridge for international trade between African and the rest of the world.

Culturally, Africans have special affinity for this country and regularly undertake pilgrimages to Jerusalem and other Holy Sites in Israel. It is also an exciting place to visit for tourism or business. We hope that Israel can find Africa as exciting in spite of the negative travel advisories on Africa.

Finally, Africa’s economic development depends upon forging and fostering close cooperation with the international community. We shall continue to play our part to strengthen mutually beneficial bilateral and regional cooperation with Israel and others.

(Excerpts from remarks by Ambassador Feslistas V. Khayumbi at the launch of the ‘Africa Initiative’ at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on May 9th.)