A Speech the PM Should Have Made on Israel's 60th Birthday
To the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
By Tsvi Bisk
"My dear friends, it is time we radically revised the very nature of Israel-Diaspora and Israel-American relations. Israel is neither an economic nor a social basket case. We are amongst the 20 most developed countries in the world. This being so it has become a moral disgrace for us to continue to be an object of international charity (Jewish or otherwise).
Our primary national goal at this historical juncture is to achieve the highest per capita median income in the world by 2030. To do this we will have to erase poverty, close the income gap between the various ethnic and religious sectors of society, raise the status of women, lower the tax burden on the middle class and create the most efficient civil service in the world. Social justice, therefore, will be a consequence of this primary economic goal.
Some will mock this goal as pretentious, especially given the present status of our civil service. But I remind you that in the early 50's, less than a decade after the Holocaust and with half our population in refugee camps, our national goal was to create one of the most powerful defense forces in the world. Had we not achieved that goal by 1967? Given the historical record of Zionism and the unique opportunities of the globalized knowledge economy can anyone really say this notion is so farfetched? In any case I will simply quote Herzl "If you will it, it is no fable."
In this context I wish to address the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora. The dominant Jewish paradigm since the creation of the state has been a highly efficient Diaspora fundraising apparatus transferring money to Israeli institutions and welfare causes. No one can doubt that this model has served us well and that Israel would not have survived and flourished without it. Nor can it be doubted that these activities on behalf of Israel infused the Diaspora with tremendous enthusiasm and energy and were a vital ingredient in building the most robust institutional culture in the history of the Jewish people. But we must be honest with ourselves. The paradigm that has served Jewish life so well during the 20th century has become dysfunctional in the 21st century. It is alienating increasing numbers of young Diaspora Jews and is having an ever diminishing positive impact on Israel.
Diaspora monies transferred to Israel have been in drastic decline, in real terms, in relation to Israel's GDP. The truth is that funds raised for Israel by all Jewish organizations (including Bonds) represent about 1% of Israel's current GDP and 2% of Israel's budget.
This traditional financial relationship has had only modest effect on most of Israel's citizens for the past several decades. This effect will continue to decline evermore steeply. Some experts have even begun to claim that Diaspora contributions have become dysfunctional to the healthy development of Israeli society; that they are a fig leaf for inefficiencies in Israeli society and a cover for our lack of political will to deal with these inefficiencies. The current model of Israel-Diaspora relations has certainly become dysfunctional to generating Jewish enthusiasm amongst the younger generation of Diaspora Jews.
The time has come for a new approach, one familiar to investors it is called leveraging or obtaining a multiplicity of effects from one investment. In this vein I call on you to now devote your contributions to "The Jewish Energy Project", dedicated to making Israel a world leader in alternative energy technologies. This would at once significantly enhance Jewish security, economy and society. 250 million dollars a year donated to an economy of over 160 billion dollars has very little effect. 250 million dollars a year used to buy Israeli alternative energy technology would be a tremendous shot in the arm for one of the major economic sectors of the near future. If you then donated this technology to your favorite charity or cause you would get a multiple benefit. Energy saving technologies would constitute a contribution in perpetuity to your favorite cause. Subsequent economies of scale would make these technologies ever more competitive on the world market, attracting more direct foreign investment and creating more high paying jobs in Israel. If we added the one billion dollars of Bonds the effect would be of historic proportions and Israel would become a major player in weakening the power of petroleum. In doing so we would be able to attract ever-growing numbers of young Diaspora Jews to involvement with Israel and their local communities. No one can doubt that alternative energy and environmental concerns are a major pre-occupation of our younger generation (in Israel as well as in the Diaspora).
Petrodollars constitute the greatest security threat to the Jewish people today. They finance terror, anti-Semitic literature and Iran's nuclear potential. Indeed petrodollars have been the chronic threat to the Jewish people for the past 60 years. Dr. Chaim Weizmann, in chapter 43 of his autobiography "Trial and Error", wrote the following:
The question of oil hovers over the Zionist problem
as it does, indeed over the entire world
it has always been my view that Palestine [written before creation of state) could be made a center of new scientific developments that would get the world past the conflict arising from the monopolistic position of oil
during my last
visit to America the struggle between oil and other interests had again been made abundantly manifest. The same problem in other forms confronted England.
Dr. Weizmann then goes on to describe the development of alternatives to petroleum and the part that Israel would play in it. He thought this should be the primary research effort of the new Jewish state. He wrote this in 1947 less than two years after the Holocaust and before the creation of the State of Israel. Isn't it about time we heeded the words of this great modern prophet. I call on world Jewry to join me in creating a new Jewish paradigm, suitable to the needs of the 21st century.
This leads me to the subject of a new Israeli-American relationship. I intend to notify the American government that by 2010 Israel will cease all requests for foreign aid. Israel's GNP at present is over 160 billion dollars a year. The present two and a half billion dollars of yearly American aid can be matched by a mere 2% economic growth in one year.
Since Israel must sustain a 5-7% yearly growth rate over the next 20 years in order to make us the most prosperous country per capita in the world, and since our economy has reached the size it has, it would be immoral, undignified and illogical, to continue to come to Uncle Sam for handouts. As with Diaspora contributions, this aid has become a cushion enabling us Israelis to put off the economic and managerial reforms necessary to make our country as efficient in its administration as it must become in order to achieve this goal. Self evident efficiencies in our public administration alone would cover the loss of the aid.
We must say to the American people: 'Thank you for your support and assistance in the past. And even though we no longer require your aid, the People of Israel are your abiding ally in eternal friendship and gratitude.'
In order to pre-empt any anxiety on this question I would like to clarify the nature of America's aid to Israel and its real relationship to Israel's economic needs. I would also like to compare it to direct and indirect American aid to the Arab world. In 2006 only 120 million dollars of American aid to Israel was for civilian purposes. It was the last year Israel received civilian aid. In contrast, before the election of Hamas the United States had been giving the Palestinian Authority 350 million dollars a year in civilian aid. All American aid to Israel is now military.
Keep in mind that this is much less than the 40-50 billion dollars a year the American military spent to defend Persian Gulf countries between the two Iraq wars. The military aid provided by the United States to the Arab Gulf States during this period totaled over a half a trillion dollars. The military aid given to Israel during the same period was between 25-30 billion dollars. The only difference being how both are itemized in the American budget. Israel's is listed as foreign aid, while aid to the Gulf States' is reflected in America's military budget. This is also the case for America's NATO contribution. It is not listed as foreign military aid to Europe, nor is the money that tens of thousands of American military personnel pour into the local economies of these countries listed as foreign aid.
Compared to the trillions of dollars of indirect military aid given to Europe and Japan during the Cold War (and even now) by way of the stationing of hundreds of thousands of American troops and powerful naval fleets, American aid to Israel is minuscule especially as it has been the only American military aid to any of its allies that has not entailed the stationing of American troops.
What is also not commonly known is that most American aid never comes to Israel and has no economic impact on the local economy (unlike the economic impact of the American troop presence in Europe and in the Persian Gulf). 75% of American military aid to Israel is deposited in American banks and used to buy American military supplies (generating jobs for an estimated 50,000 American families). I want to reassure these families that for the next several years at least Israel will continue to purchase these supplies from its own budget, giving your industries a cushion of time in order to adapt to the loss of our market and to assure your jobs.
To further clarify the nature of American aid I would like to point out that 25% is discretionary and comes directly to Israel. This discretionary aid is usually used to finance research and development of arms systems such as the Arrow anti-missile missile that Israel can do more efficiently than the United States (with subsequent savings to the American taxpayer). Israel is also a major provider of much of America's human intelligence about the Middle East.
I mention all of this for the record; to demonstrate that the militarily relationship has been much less one-sided than generally perceived and has become of minor importance to Israel's economic wellbeing.
Because of this the "threat" (by the chronic anti-Israel crowd) to stop military aid as a means to pressure Israel into making decisions it would not otherwise make has been simply wrongheaded. Fortunately this has been recognized by most sophisticated policy makers in the United States and Europe. They have known for some time that Israel could manage without such aid and that any arbitrary moves would make Israel more stubborn, not more flexible. They also have known that a possible Israeli reaction might be to make certain implicit capabilities explicit. This would almost certainly have limited room for diplomatic maneuver and inflamed the region even more. By Israel initiating the end of American aid we will have deprived our enemies of one of the most significant weapons in their propaganda arsenal. From a Grand Strategic point of view, therefore, Israel will be strengthened and not weakened by such a step.
In conclusion I would like to note that economic development is not a zero sum quantitative enterprise; it is based on cultural values and characteristics which derive from the psychology of a society. Imagine the pride, and liberated intellectual and physical energy resulting from Israel becoming economically Bar Mitzvah. Imagine the economic dynamism that will be an end result of this. I predict that the course I have outlined here will be the economic equivalent of 'less is more' less external aid, more economic dynamism for the benefit of Israel and the entire Jewish people. Let this be the present Israel gives to the Jewish people and its dear American friends on the occasion of Israel's 60th birthday."
Tsvi Bisk is an independent Futurist, Social Researcher and Strategy Planning Consultant. He has published over one hundred essays and articles in English and Hebrew. His most recent book The Optimistic Jew: a Positive Vision for the Jewish People in the 21st Century is available on Amazon and in Israel at Tzomet Ha'Sepharim. Tsvi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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For more articles on Israel, see our Israel Archives
from the June 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine