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Israel at seventy: time to celebrate and time to lament

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Thursday, 17 May 2018


At seventy, Israel has every reason to celebrate its remarkable achievements that every Israeli can take pride in, as they witnessed the redemption of the Jews they have been dreaming of, but never though they could realize. Israel's accomplishments in various walks of life have made the country a global power; it did so with one hand tied behind its back as the country fought wars, battled violent extremism, and struggled economically, while wrestling against all odds to survive.

Even with these extraordinary achievements, however, Israel remains marred by the continuing conflicts with the Palestinians, suffers domestically from political and social polarization and economic disparity, and is threatened with the loss of its Jewish national identity. The country is consumed by internal conflict and beleaguered by a dysfunctional political system, while its citizens live with a heightened sense of insecurity and concern about an uncertain future.

Israel's achievements are wide in range and scope. Indeed, no country has been able to achieve as much in so many fields of study in such a short period of time. In science and technology, Israel has registered remarkable breakthroughs rivaling nearly every country except for the US. Israelis have earned 12 Nobel awards in several field, especially in chemistry.

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Economically, Israel has moved from being dependent on foreign aid to independent, increasing its gross domestic product sixfold since its inception. To highlight Israel's economic achievements, Israel's GDP in 2016 was $348 billion, versus $333 billion for Egypt with a population of nearly 100 million people.

In the field of medicine, Israel is the home of one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, and Israeli scientists have made great advancements in medical research, including the development of medications treating multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

Israel has developed major civilian and military industries that rival many European countries, while becoming a nuclear power (a well-known secret) with the most powerful military in the Middle East.

Israeli academic researchers have made groundbreaking contributions in a number of fields, and its number of university graduates is among the highest of developed nations. In agriculture, water desalination and conservation, and afforestation, Israel registered major breakthroughs.

Notwithstanding these unrivaled successes, there is much to lament about Israel's failures to address its multiple domestic and foreign crises. Israel is existentially threatened while suffering from social and political malaise, eroding its social fabric and seriously endangering its viability as an independent state that is secure and at peace.

Israel's democracy is eroding with the freedom of the press being increasingly subject to military censorship and gag orders. Journalists often face travel restrictions and government-funded media outlets are influenced to report on behalf of the government's policies.

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Corruption at the highest levels of government and businesses is rampant. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his predecessors Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Barak have all been investigated for graft along with several cabinet ministers; Olmert ended up serving time in jail.

Discrimination against Israeli Arabs and Jews of darker skin is widespread. The Israeli population is becoming increasingly polarized, and the political divide is chipping away at the heart of Israeli democracy as 'us versus them' has become the popular mantra.

The religious institutions are gaining ever more political sway and alienating religiously reform-minded American and European Jews because of their zealotry. The population is moving to the right-of-center, leaving liberals with shrinking room to articulate their political ideology. Instead they find themselves adopting much of the right-of-center's policies only to remain politically relevant.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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