Boycotting Israel – a crime against humanity
The gap between vibrant, researching, developing and contributing Israel and the country portrayed in the media and in academic papers is vast.
These aren’t easy days and it wasn’t an easy year. The Arab spring is turning out to be a bumpy ride for those who staged it and for those hoping it will bring about change. The social protest in Israel, the largest the country has ever seen, exposed gaps and social grievances and led to high expectations of change that will likely not come to fruition. Israel’s diplomatic isolation is increasing and every speech Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes is met with a long list of columnists and commentators denouncing him as a warmonger.
This is the background to a visit from our friends, a middle class family from a large city in France, with good jobs and a nice apartment. They visit Israel every year, and by now have picked up some Hebrew. Last month they decided that the time had come to move to Israel. “Are you crazy?,” I asked them, and they answered “not at all.” Sometimes you need to listen to them and to others like them to understand that despite social concerns, diplomatic isolation, the declining education system and the political impasses, Israel is still a good place to live. Israel may not be the best option available, but it certainly isn’t the worst.
True, many Israelis live abroad, but if you think they’re all living it up, you should go visit some neighborhoods in New York. When dealing with Israel our media tends to show bad things and when discussing Israelis abroad they tend to focus on Bar Rafaeli, so the perceptions are slightly skewed. But Israel isn’t all bad, and living abroad isn’t a bed of roses either.
Israel’s income per capita is reasonable, though we still have a way to go. We are 28th in the world in terms of power purchasing power (our $29,602 is much higher than Saudi Arabia, for example). In terms of life expectancy we are making progress and are currently eighth in the world (behind Sweden) with a life expectancy of nearly 81. Despite all our troubles, we live longer than the French, Norwegians, Dutch, Italian and most western countries. This is an amazing accomplishment considering Israel’s population is made of immigrants from dozens of countries mainly from Eastern Europe and Arab countries where life expectancy was and remains much lower.
When it comes to the happiness index we are in a place we would never dared dream of years ago. In general, quantifying happiness is a tricky business and some polls contradict each other. The more reliable Gallup company came out with research spanning four years (2005 – 2009) polling thousands of people in 155 countries. At the top of their list of happiest countries were Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Holland. I’m guessing you haven’t fallen off your chair reading that since those countries are considered leaders in quality of life. But here comes the surprise: Israel is ranked eighth in that poll.
I doubt we would still score that high after the social unrest of recent months; however, the poll was taken during a period when Israel went through the Gaza disengagement, the Second Lebanon War as well as the unrest on the southern border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel is ranked higher than Australia, the United States and all of Europe. If anyone had the impression that this is a very unpleasant place to live, they were wrong.
INTERNATIONAL ACADEMIC tests paint a pretty dismal picture of Israeli students. But somehow, in a process which itself requires explanation, the same students achieve amazing results in the fields of research and development in hi-tech and science. For that reason Israel has 1.8 scientific papers published per 1000 people (2006 statistics). When compared to the previous decade, it is evident that Israel is on the rise.
This record puts Israel in good company, behind Switzerland with 3 publications per 1000 people, Sweden with 2; in the same place as the UK and Norway and before the USA and France with 1.1 or Germany with 1.2.
The Israeli story receives more support when checking the list of young scientists awarded prestigious scholarships. One of the world’s most important organizations granting these scholarships is the European Research Council, which receives thousands of applications a year. According to a recent finding, 4080 scholarship requests were made, of which 480 young scientists were selected. The leading countries are the UK (population 62 million) with 124 scholarships, Germany (81 million) – 64, France (65 million) – 57, Holland (17 million) – 47. Israel, with its population of 7.4 million, received 22 scholarships, which means that per capita, Israel is the leader. Previous years’ data show the same trend.Indeed, these are surprising figures considering the low grades achieved by Israeli students.
I’VE WRITTEN in the past about Israeli achievements in many areas. It seems things are only getting better. Milk production of Israeli cows is the highest in the world (10,208 liters per cow per year vs. 6,139 liters in the EU). Israel also leads the world in agricultural output in several fields, and in developing new pest resilient strains of crops (for example, one kilogram of “summer sun” tomato seeds produced by Hazera Genetics sells for $350,000, roughly 7 times the price of gold). The same company also developed new tomato seeds which are projected to reach a 40 percent share of the European tomato market.
In the past few years the water industry, too, has seen a lot of development. Already, Israel holds the world record in recycling treated water, 75%, well ahead of second place Spain (20%). Irrigation techniques developed in Israel enable farmers to produce the largest quantity of produce per water unit. The desalination plant in Ashkelon is the world’s largest and most advanced, producing water at the lowest cost per cubic meter.
Israel’s achievements in the fields of hi-tech, pharmaceuticals and advanced technologies are well known. When the boycott idea was being discussed in Britain, a British blogger, Barry Shore, requested that boycotters treat all Israeli products the same. He asked every Brit to check how much of his computer’s hardware and software were developed in Israel and then to open the medicine cabinet and check how many of the medicines are based on research conducted in Israel. As the time goes on more inventions and developments are added to the list, and Israel is now the world leader in heart surgery stents. Are any boycotters willing to give all these developments up?
Farms based on advanced Israeli irrigation techniques and know-how are established in many third world countries and are saving millions from hunger. Do the boycott backers want to ban this knowledge from mankind? Are the boycotters humanists or just hatemongers? I know these facts won’t persuade “professional” Israel haters but it is our duty to show these people the long list of achievements and facts, and to explain that boycotting Israel is really a crime against humanity.
All that said, no country is free of criticism and some of the criticism is warranted. Still, the gap between vibrant, researching, developing and contributing Israel and the country portrayed in the media and in academic papers is vast. We must also admit that we here in Israel also tend to ignore the real Israel. We focus on being watchdogs and fear that any positive article or compliment about Israel’s achievements will label us as Pravda. But sometimes we are also allowed to look at the half-full cup. We love internal and external criticism , but sometimes we need a little reminder that there are things we should be proud of.
The writer is a researcher, jurist and a journalist. The article is reprinted with the permission of ‘Maariv.’