Nothing succeeds like success, and the State of Israel’s success in a range of fields has created more goodwill for the Jewish people than at any time in history, and also more enmity. The world’s strivers see Israel as an example, and the world’s sulkers view Israel as a humiliating reminder of their misery.
Joseph Dana argued in a March 25 opinion article on this site that “political Zionism raises the risk of anti-Semitism.” That is true only to the extent that success breeds envy. Success also elicits admiration, though, and Israel is admired by ambitious and upwardly mobile people around the world. On balance, political Zionism has brought about far more philo-Semitism than anti-Semitism.
Half a million tourists visited Israel in December 2018, twice the number of the previous December. South Korean high-school students are adopting traditional Jewish learning techniques. Books about Jewish success are best-sellers in China. Chinese students are applying to Israeli universities; 200 now attend the University of Haifa compared with just 20 in 2013, and nearly 200 are enrolled at the Technion, Israel’s elite science university.
Retired Israeli ambassador Yoram Ettinger wrote in January that 2018 was “a banner year for Israel diplomacy,” marked by the move of America’s embassy to Jerusalem, soon to be followed by Brazil.
“Netanyahu’s breakthrough diplomatic travels in 2018 included an official visit to the Arabian Gulf Sultanate of Oman, where he held talks with Sultan Qaboos Bin Said…. Also significant was Chadian President Idriss Déby’s historic visit to Israel, with Netanyahu planning to visit the Central African country next year, at which time the two nations expected to declare a renewal of diplomatic ties.
“Other landmark meetings strengthening economic ties with leaders from China, Japan and India. Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan visited Israel, as did Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Netanyahu met with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Delhi, leading to a joint declaration of the ‘dawn of a new era’ in bilateral relations.”
In related developments, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt last week announced that the United Kingdom would vote against many anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations rather than abstaining, as in the past. And Hungary opened a trade mission in Jerusalem, the first de facto recognition of the Israeli capital by a European Community member state.
By any objective gauge of success, the State of Israel is uniquely successful.
Israel’s 6 million Jews field the strongest armed forces in the region. Its economy has outpaced other industrial countries. In 2006, Israel’s per capita gross domestic product was just 63% of the high-income average, and it is now on par.
Israel spends a higher proportion of GDP on research and development than any country in the world. A total of US$4 billion of venture capital was invested in Israeli companies in 2017, compared with $5.8 billion for the UK, $2.9 billion in Germany and $2.4 billion in France.
And most remarkably, Israel is the only industrial country with a fertility rate above break-even. Israeli Jewish women have three children on average (2.5 children excluding the very religious). In practical terms, that means that Israel’s population of young people will be equal to that of Germany and Japan by the end of this present century if current fertility trends persist.
There are many reasons for Israel’s success, but the most important of them in my view is political Zionism itself. The Israelis rebuilt their ancient nation against overwhelming odds with a combination of ferocious discipline and high tolerance for risk. These qualities, essential in war, are also decisive in art, as Thomas Mann wrote in his 1914 essay “Gedanken im Kriege.”
A decade ago I surveyed Israel’s improbable success in classical music, one of many fields in which the small Jewish state punches far above its weight. After a week of interviewing Israeli musicians and observing musical competitions, the following idea dawned on me: “The sense of a future in Western classical music evokes the basic emotions with which human beings regard the future, namely hope and fear. When Israeli musicians speak of performing with a sense of risk, they mean the capacity to sustain hope in the presence of fear. It takes a certain kind of personality to do this on the concert stage, with all the attendant artistic and technical demands. Israel, whose existential premise is the triumph of hope over fear, incubates a disproportionately large number of musicians with this sort of personality.”
In this context, one reads with pity Joseph Dana’s claim that “for American Jews, the United States is the only homeland they have ever wanted, and so the debate about dual loyalty cuts deep while raising questions about their safety and security. Since the Jewish people never elected Israel to represent them, nor have the Jewish people ever claimed that the State of Israel is their national homeland, it is safe to say that Zionism is propagating a dangerous version of dual loyalty for Jews everywhere.”
There are two canards in this statement. The first is the issue of so-called dual loyalty, raised most recently by the Somali-American US congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
The word “hypocrisy” fails to capture the mendacity of this claim. The American left (and Omar in particular) abhors the United States in principle, viewing it as a racist-misogynist-colonialist entity that forced Africans into slavery, exterminated most of the aboriginal population, invaded Vietnam and Iraq, and otherwise promoted a patriarchal-capitalist-white supremacist vision of the world. As such, leftists like Dana want America to lose power – above all military power. Israel is America’s most reliable and effective military ally, as well as provider of critical weapons such as the Iron Dome, and Israel’s American friends are also the biggest supporters of American military strength.
The second canard involves American Jews and Americans in general. America was conceived from its founding as a new City on the Hill, that is, a new Jerusalem, an “almost-chosen nation” (Abraham Lincoln), a new Mission in the Wilderness – that is, as an emulation of the biblical Israel.
The living presence of the biblical Israel validates the American Founding and inspires its descendants. America’s DNA is philo-Semitic; by no accident the Bible-believing Christian Harry Truman was the first head of state to recognize the newly founded State of Israel in 1948. America’s evangelical Christians, who comprise about 30% of voters, continue to embrace Christian Zionism. And the influence of American evangelical Christianity has produced a shift in sentiment toward Israel in the global South, most prominently in Brazil.
Asia’s fascination with Israel has more to do with material success than religion, to be sure, but Asians’ philo-Semitism has something in common with that of the evangelicals: Nothing succeeds like success. Asian strivers will continue to admire Israel and emulate its path to success, while sulkers in various failed states will continue to nurse their grudge against Israeli success.
As an American Jew, I see the matter differently than Joseph Dana. I am grateful that Israel enjoys the admiration of striving Asians, and am resigned to the fact that Israel will be hated by sulkers like Representative Omar and Mr. Dana himself.