What Went Right for Israel?

In his book published in 2002, Bernard Lewis asked "what went wrong" in the Islamic world, which had itself become conscious, by comparison with the West, that all was not well in its own society.  As a corollary, it is timely to ask, "What went right in the State of Israel?"

The pessimists who proclaim the deterioration of Israel's international standing might remember the old Jewish saying: "What you don't see with your eyes, don't invent with your mouth."  Yes, it is true that prejudiced individuals and groups, bigots, and short-sighted dupes in various sectors of life -- businesses such as the U.K. Co-Operative Group, international organizations such as Oxfam, academic bodies such as the Association for American Studies, mainstream churches such as the Presbyterians and the World Council of Churches, and trade unions such as the Teachers' Union of Ireland -- have succumbed to pressure from those advocating the Palestinian narrative of victimhood.  Such prejudiced personnel do support some form of boycott of the State of Israel or its citizens.

Unfortunately for them, these boycotters are slow to appreciate the resilience of the State of Israel in responding to the fallacious Palestinian narrative.  The Israeli economy is strong and stable, having escaped most of the problems caused by the global financial crisis of recent years that was responsible for a decline in world trade growth and a reduction in global import demand.  Israeli GDP in 2012 increased by 3.3%, and GDP per capita by 1.5%.  The driving force in the economy was the high-tech industry, which was responsible for exports worth $21.5 billion.  The high-tech companies, mostly in pharmaceuticals, electrical components, chemicals, and aircraft, were responsible for 52% of the worth of total exports.  

Even more, the boycotters are ignorant of the remarkable advances in Israeli society as well as in economic success.  They are totally unaware of developments in Israel in the advances of intellectual property and of innovative technology.

The despair of pessimists about the boycott of Israel might be mitigated if they were aware of just part of a rapidly developing story -- not only of the extraordinary technological advances in the country, but also of the worldwide interest in those advances.  The list of relationships is long, but some of this can be recounted.  At present, more than 250 multinational research and development centers are active in Israel.  The large Woodside Petroleum Company of Australia is joining explorations in the Israeli Leviathan offshore natural gas field; the company will have a 25% equity expected to be worth $2.7 billion.  The Stavanger University in Norway has become a partner with Technion in the field of energy-engineering.

Intel, the California semiconductor chip corporation, has had a long and continuing relationship with Israel: this has meant billion-dollar investments, about 10,000 people employed, and research developments.  A significant recent innovation is the 8088 microprocessor, designed at Intel's laboratory in Haifa.  Bayer HealthCare in August 2013 agreed to pay the Tel Aviv drug discovery company Compugen $10 million for collaboration and a license agreement.  The two companies will combine research to address issues in immunology and oncology and aim to find antibody-based cancer drugs.

Relationships have been particularly strong in the field of cyber-technologies.  Lockheed Martin has recognized Israel's leadership in innovation and has entered a joint investment program with Israel's EMC.  IBM is setting up a Cyber Center at Ben Gurion University.  Microsoft is negotiating arrangements with Israel's research centers.

The French company, Electricité de France, is preparing to participate in constructing two large power stations in Israel.  A surprising event is the activity in February 2014 on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.  The Water Level Chip Scale Package, part of Israel's Infinity Group and linked to China, is the first company with a foreign co-founder to go public on the Shanghai Exchange.  Israelis had a 38% share in equity of the company.

The most recent development, in mid-February 2014, is the deal between Israel and Jordan, according to which Israel will supply Jordan with gas -- about $500 million's worth -- from the Tamar natural gas field in the Mediterranean. The deal may be increased to a partnership between the two countries, amounting to about $30 billion.  In addition, Israel is likely to sell $1.2 billion's worth of natural gas to the Palestinian Authority over a 20-year period and will probably sell gas to Turkey, in spite of present strained relations.  These relationships stem from the output from the Tamar deposit, which began operations on March 2013 and which has an estimated 8.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  They will be enhanced when a larger Israeli deposit, Leviathan, which has an estimated 16-18 trillion cubic feet of gas, becomes operational in 2016.

In January 2014, the Israeli cyber-security company Aorato announced that it was receiving investments from a number of firms, including Accel Partners in Silicon Valley.  About the same time, Adallom, an Israeli security company specializing in breakthrough technology in artificial intelligence and data protection, obtained funds from Index Ventures in London. 

A number of businesses and countries have benefited from Israeli technology, such as the Israeli Dip-Tech company, which specializes in digital in-glass printers.  The innovation is to use ceramic inks to transfer digitally images onto panes of glass, thus transforming buildings in artistic fashion.  Among other sites and places where this process has been used are Barclay's Bank in Paris; Harlem Hospital in New York; the National Museum of Rock and Pop Music in Norway; a shopping mall in Moscow; a sports center in Perth, Australia; the Glass Farm in Holland; and the Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago.

The boycotters, lacking curiosity as well as information, might take note of some of Israel's technological developments.  One is the innovation of a 27-year-old Israeli scientist named Kira Radinsky, who was named in 2013 to the list of young (under 35 years old) persons regarded as innovators by MIT.  She developed a software tool that is able to predict certain disasters, including those of disease, violence, and natural catastrophes.  This approach was successful in predicting the cholera outbreak in Angola in 2006 and the epidemic in Cuba in 2012.  The approach, through a company called SalesPredict, is now being applied to business to help sales.

In addition to Israel's many start-up companies aspiring to global markets in developed countries, new companies have been exploring entrance into developing countries.  The prejudiced members of academic institutions who have been active in advocating academic boycotts of Israeli universities might take special note of one company supported by Tel Aviv University.  This is IsraelDev, founded by young entrepreneurs, which understands that Israeli technology can be used in areas of conservation of water, economy in use of energy, monitoring of health and education, and easier communications in developing countries.

The IsraelDev network now includes a number of companies.  MigrantHealth streamlines medical care and health providers on line for the developing countries; PrePex developed a method to provide pain-free circumcisions to men in those countries.  Other companies are engaged in related activities to meet challenges in the developing world.

The current pessimists about the possible isolation of Israel in the world ought to take account of all these developments and the inclination of so many countries, including Arab countries, to enter into and to increase relationships with Israel.  In similar fashion, the problem for the boycotters, even those of goodwill and with the morality of Boy Scouts, is that they have allowed political or social pressure to overcome their rational understanding of the realities of Middle East life.  The boycotters have accepted the Palestinian transformation of the real, complex problems in the relationship between Israel and Palestinians into universal abstractions of good and evil.  They lack the information and taste of concrete detail about Israel's policies and the unwillingness of the Palestinian Authority to enter into negotiations.  It is not true that he goes farther who does not know where he is going.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.