Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Israel, the Too Successful?

That's what Stephanie Gutman suggests in her blog at the Daily Telegraph:

The unpredictable, sometimes zany, but often brilliant conservative writer George Gilder has just come out with a  a new book, entitled The Israel Test. Gilder is best known for his hugely influential 1981 book Wealth and Poverty – a celebration of wealth creation and entrepreneurship that some say served as a blueprint for Ronald Reagan's rescue of the economy after the great Jimmy Carter-imposed malaise.

....The thrust of The Israel Test is that the real issue behind support (it doesn't have to be unconditional support) or disapproval of Israel (he's talking about significant disapproval, the kind we see marching in Trafalgar Square draped in keffiyehs) are people's deepest, most primal feelings about achievement. Do you admire achievement and think it should be encouraged? Or do you reflexively distrust it, think it comes at the expense of someone else, and seek to limit it?

The issue comes up  because Israel, against formidable odds, has become a powerhouse in the fields of bio tech and high tech (industries Gilder particularly admires) while also hosting healthy music, design, and literature sectors.


Assuming that wealth is distributed from above, chiefly by government, rather than generated by invention and ingenuity, Israel's critics [in academia, in organizations like the EU and the UN] see the world as a finite sum of resources. Believing that Israel, like the United States, has seized too much of the world's resources, they advocate vast programs of international retribution and redistribution. In their view, Israel's wealth stems not from… creativity and genius but from cadging aid from the United States or seizing valuable land and other resources from Arabs….This vision of zero-sum economics manifests itself around the globe. Perhaps some of you readers share it.

You imagine that free international trade is a mixed blessing, with many victims. You want to give much of Israel's wealth to its neighbors. You think that Israel's neighbors — and the world — would benefit more from redistribution than from Israel's continuing prosperity and freedom. You believe that Israel is somehow too large rather than too small. You believe, fantastically, that poverty is caused not by envy and rapine but by enterprise and property – that poverty is a major side effect of wealth.


Criticisms of Israel are legitimate – as are criticism of the US, the UK, and the Republic of New Guinea – but you have to suspect that "something else is going on" as the psychologists put it, when you see the level of passion, the seething, usually coming from people who've spent little time in the area.  There are dozens of human rights and disputed territory issues about which they could stew and fume – Darfur, Tibet, Kashmir – but it's Israel/Palestine that seem to attract people like a magnet.


Gilder identifies the out-sized and misplaced passions as coming from conditioned distrust of achievement. But world attitudes are also based on a canonization of victimhood.  In these days of canonized victimhood, survival, particularly if it has involved aggression (even if that aggression is in self defense) is always suspect.   At the start of the period known as "the second intifada", a Palestinian leader told New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, "We will win this conflict because we die better."  He was right.  In battle after battle, the Islamist forces of Hamas or Hezbollah publicize huge (though often inaccurate) numbers of civilian casualties as evidence that Israel has somehow cheated in the prosecution of a very mutual war. When the people of Southern Israel build concrete bunkers in their living rooms, cover their kindergartens in sandbags, and live life with one ear cocked to the incoming rocket alert siren in order to survive the approximately 8,000 rockets which were launched from Gaza between the period of 2005 and 2009, it is not seen as a miracle of civil defense planning and stoicism but, again, as evidence that Israel is up to something sneaky, unfair, "disproportionate." Israelis simply aren't dying well enough for the intelligentsia of the world.

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