Archive for ‘On Campus’

October 11, 2011

Israel’s Pioneer Status is Slipping

by Gedalyah Reback

We've heard about how Intel is made in Israel, but is the country losing its status as a science hub? | Photo by flickr user yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
You’ve heard about how Intel processors are made in Israel, but is the country losing its status as a science hub? | Photo by flickr user yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Israel is considered a pioneer. Its technological and medical developments might be the results of years of input from a culture of research and development. But even after one of the country’s top chemists’ latest Nobel Prize win, Professor Ehud Keinan of the country’s educational advisory board on chemistry has been very public with his anxiety the country’s pioneering spirit is slipping. He highlights education, but most Israelis are preoccupied with diplomacy.

Turkey. Egypt. Palestine. It seems like the world is collapsing in on Israel, that these three and many more problems are converging into an unfortunate coincidence. In reality, these events are all linked: the fallout with Turkey, the cooling peace with Egypt and the collapse of Israel’s position internationally on the Palestinians. The past two years might give us a clue as to what is happening. That is to say, the previous two years and the government at the helm during them is not the source of the problem. The problem has been in play for quite a long time. It is relatively simple and frightening on multiple levels at the same time.

Israel has no plan. Many countries, typically socialist ones, are obsessed with the concept. Typically, public planning in those places doesn’t go further than a few years, but it projects an attitude which is strangely absent in Western countries. Debt has consumed many of these countries based on principles that emphasize borrowing and pushing off responsibility. Israel’s challenge is more unique.

On the one hand, Israel is a country that has been locked into a particular situation with no sense of what the obvious course of action is. On the other hand, Israel is arguably a country without the proper mindset to conceive of long-term planning.

Since the country’s birth, it has been fighting for survival. Israel’s need for foreign assistance during the War of Independence was dire. Its win in 1967 against Arab armies could have easily been a loss, had Egypt chosen to attack first and set the Israelis back. In 1973, American resupply might not have given Golda Meir the chance to turn the tables on Egypt and Syria. The citizens of Israel have let the idea become embedded in their collective psyche that wars are fought in minutes and with luck–and that they are even won that way. With that, the very concept of planning has been forsaken.

That is the explanation a friend of mine from the Technion gave me last month when we were discussing what I thought was Israel’s diplomatic complex. The country’s lack of a long-term plan for its people–population targets, land retention, foreign business investments and, especially, the lack of a plan for the day after a peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians–are all feeding the diplomatic spiral.

My friend explained it in terms of mentality. I liked her take. Israel’s politicians have been immobile as the Middle East has exploded. They might not have been if they had been forward-thinking years ago. As Lebanon pushed Syrian troops out of their country and Iraq got a shot at democratic government, further changes seemed inevitable to major analysts and politicians. The writing was on the wall.

As Israel faces a number of challenges regarding the size of its population, its lack of cultural influence in the Middle East, and its tiny position on the world stage. At the United Nations, Israel has the unusual status of having no specified regional group. Membership in these divisions is necessary to qualify for the UN Security Council. Because of Arab enmity, Israel has not been able to represent the Middle East and thus has been locked out.

Where is the initiative to improve this situation?

Diplomatically, Israel can improve its situations by focusing on itself. What is Israel’s goal from its ties to the Palestinians? Is it really as simple as a secure peace? If Israel can answer with what it needs as a country to build for itself a plan, it will indeed salvage its sliding yet enduring image as a pioneering country.

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