If you really had to avoid everything Israeli, you’d probably have to go live in the woods.What is Israel? With all the arguments and rhetoric surrounding it, it’s easy to forget that Israel is a country, not just a controversial subject. The fact is, every single American’s life has been vastly improved by Israeli innovations and advances in science and technology.

Israel has made your life better, and not just by producing Natalie Portman.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try a little thought experiment. Imagine what life would be like without Israel’s contributions. What if you had to avoid all technology developed in Israel, ignore all Israeli scientific advances and otherwise pretend that Israel never existed? Could you do it?

For starters, you could not use any cell phones. The cell phone was developed by Motorola’s Israeli R&D team. But who needs to talk to people anyway?

While we’re on the subject, the internationally popular ICQ instant messaging platform was developed in Israel by a company called Mirabilis before being sold to AOL. In addition to popularizing instant messaging, Mirabilis also pioneered the large-scale peer-to-peer network architecture later used by companies such as Napster and Kazaa.

Forget emailing and doing work on your laptop, since Intel’s Israeli R&D team designed the Pentium M/Centrino and the dual core processor. If you’re using a laptop with an Intel processor, the sticker on it should probably say ‘Israel Inside’.

For those of you with older Macs (before MacBooks came out), your processors were made by IBM. Any guesses on which small Middle Eastern country holds IBM’s largest R&D facilities outside the United States?

It’s not just laptop users that would be affected, however. Most of Windows NT was developed by Microsoft’s Israel R&D team. And the popular Windows XP operating system is built on top of NT. So have fun writing your term papers in Linux.

In fact, if you’re missing out on Israel, you’re missing out on a lot. Israel is home to the largest concentration of technology companies outside the U.S. There are about 35,000 high tech companies in Israel, which has a population of about seven million people. America is the only country with more companies listed on the NASDAQ than Israel.

That tiny country (about the size of New Jersey) also has more biotech start-ups per capita than any other nation. Among the things you’d be missing out on are Given Imaging’s M2A camera-in-a-pill that has tremendous medical and scientific applications, the Ex-Press shunt for glaucoma patients, and the first once-a-day pill for Parkinson’s disease.

Of special interest to women, Israel’s Savyon Diagnostics recently created the first over-the-counter test for yeast infections. For those afraid of needles, an Israeli company called Transpharma just created the first medicated patch for osteoperosis. Then there’s HealOr, which is revolutionizing care for diabetic ulcers. And don’t forget Optimata, which developed a Virtual Cancer Patient Engine that is state-of-the-art in predicting how breast cancer patients will respond to chemotherapy. The list goes on.

Avoiding Israeli advances would also mean avoiding a significant portion of the world’s academia. That’s because Israel has more university degrees per capita, more scientists per capita and more scientific papers per capita than any other nation in the world. Israeli contributions include a method of using light to kill cancer cells, the discovery of a non-genetic code in DNA which sets the placement of nucleosomes and a breath-based liver test that will reduce the need for biopsies. Israeli researchers have found a new gene that will permit agriculture in ultra-saline environments. An Israeli doctor led the Merck team that recently developed a vaccine against cervical cancer. And again, the list goes on.

Closer to my Stanford home, participants in this experiment will have to choose their classes and research opportunities carefully. I’ve noticed that my department, computer science, is full of Israelis; I’ve already had three Israeli professors, including MacArthur Genius Grant winner Daphne Koller (and no, I don’t pick my classes based on the nationality of the professor).

Israeli CS profs work in cutting edge fields such as artificial intelligence and network security. I might add that this trend goes beyond just the professors. There are five Hebrew speakers in my research group alone.

In case you were wondering, computer science is not unique in this regard. Brilliant Israeli professors are all over the Farm, but don’t take my word for it. Ask a certified genius, like MacArthur winner Avner Greif in the economics department.

If you really had to avoid everything Israeli, you’d probably have to go live in the woods. As you sit here, reading this column, Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs are continuing with their steady stream of contributions. So let’s put this thought experiment to rest, but do me one little favor. The next time you hear the word ‘Israel’, say ‘inside’. In the words of Weird Al: It’s all about the Pentiums.

(Reprinted with the author’s permission from the Stanford Daily)