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Right Turn
Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 12/27/2011

Time for Israel to change the narrative

More than 90 percent (I would guess) of U.S. media coverage about Israel is about Iran, the Palestinian conflict and Israel’s uneasy relations with its Arab neighbors. And if you listen to the left-wing foes of Israel, it’s all about apartheid, religious extremism and Orthodox Jews’s views on women. No wonder first-time visitors come away amazed that Israel is so “normal.” You see, to the dismay of the Jewish state’s enemies, it’s not on the brink of collapse.

In one respect, however, Israel is decidedly not normal. In fact, it’s an economic miracle that’s been virtually ignored. This report provides further evidence of just how exceptional its progress has been:

The unemployment rate in Israel dropped to a 30-year low of only 5 percent in October, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Monday.
The bureau’s data indicates that the number of Israelis without work is currently 155,000 — a drop of 1.3% since December 2010. This means that no fewer than 40,300 out of work-able people found gainful employment. These numbers fly in the face of forecasts by top economists, including the Bank of Israel and the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development], who predicted that unemployment would rise by 1% to 1.5% and reach 6.5% by the end of this year.
The unexpected drop in unemployment can be attributed to accelerated economic growth, increased efficiency and a rise in the quality of life.

In fact, while the rest of the world is in some form of tailspin, Israel is largely flying above the worldwide economic turbulence. “The report puts Israel on a higher standing than most Western countries. The U.S. currently has a rate of 8.6% unemployment, and the eurozone nations come in at an average of 10.3%.”

For a fascinating explanation about why Israel has prospered, there is no better resource than the book “Start-Up Nation” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. But let’s consider for a moment why Israel’s economic and technological success seems to be a state secret.

Part of the explanation comes from the adage that the media craves bad news. “Israel still prosperous!” isn’t the most alluring headline for many editors. It is also the case that the foreign press stationed in Israel are among the most notoriously lazy and antagonistic foreign press contingents to be found in any country on the planet. Check out one of the downtown hotel bars if you doubt it.

But to be blunt, Israel has contributed to the problem. Its lack of self-promotion, or its ill-conceived efforts to promote itself, are rather startling for a country clever enough to have a booming tech industry. When it comes to promoting itself and conveying the experience of living in Israel, the country is a disaster.

There is one concrete example, which might be the place to start. The annual Herzliya Conference has been going on for 12 years. Each year is remarkably similar to the last. A sample of the upbeat (not!) programming for this year’s event, set to begin on Jan. 30: “Toward a New European Strategy for the Middle East”; “No Peace, No Process: Israel-Palestinian Relations”; “Facing Delegitimization and Anti-Semitism: Do Israeli Policies Affect the State of Jewish Diaspora?”; and “In the Eye of Storms: Israel’s National Security in a Different Middle East.” Good grief. Why not: Israel: who’d want to live there?

It’s actually worse than it seems. There is nothing like flocks of Europeans and Americans coming to lecture Jews on why they are imperiled. Enough. You would think it’s time to end the security/fear-mongering conferences — unless, of course, Israel wants the whole world to think of it as nothing more than the site of the next war.

Israel’s actually got something to tell the Europeans and Americans. It’s about finance, privatization, technology, assimilation of high-knowledge immigrants and wealth creation. It would be good place to start normalizing Israel’s image in the world if its most highly publicized doom-and-gloom conference were replaced by something else that might convey to the rest of the world what an extraordinary economic and technological juggernaut Israel has become. And if Israel is afraid that this will just stoke anti-Semitism (Jews and money, you see) then the country has a bigger self-image problem than it does a security problem.

By  |  11:30 AM ET, 12/27/2011

Categories:  Israel

 
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