More Than a Miraculous Year
At New Year's time, we typically look back on the past year, but I'd like to look back at the century as this one comes to an end. In the last couple of years, we've celebrated the 100th anniversary of Zionism and Israel's 50th birthday and I think it is worth taking a few minutes to do something we don't do often enough – and that is marvel at what Israel has accomplished in its short history.
Israel may be on the verge of its greatest achievement yet, peace agreements with all its neighbors. Egypt has maintained its cold peace with Israel for 20 years, the treaty with Jordan is now going on five years. Many of the outstanding issues with the Palestinians have been resolved and the conflict with them could be settled by this time next year. Syria continues to make noises about peace. Of course, we shouldn't confuse the millennium with the messianic age and it is still likely that Israel will face terrorism and ongoing threats from radical Muslims and rejectionist states like Iraq and Iran. Nevertheless, the prospects for war are dimmer than they have ever been and Israel is stronger than it has ever been.
Besides the progress toward peace, the greatest story of the last half century in the Middle East may be the ingathering of the exiles in Israel. The integration of people from more than 100 countries has been nothing short of astounding. Consider that the Jewish population doubled in just the first three years of statehood. A little more than 50 years ago, 500,000 jews lived in Palestine. Today, the Jewish population of Israel is nearly 10 times that figure.
Consider America’s immigration problems and then imagine the enormity of Israel’s task, absorbing roughly 900,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union in the last decade. It would be like the United States assimilating the entire population of Spain. Remember all those stories a few years ago about Soviet doctors sweeping streets. Well, you don’t hear them anymore.
Think about Israel as a haven. Since 1948, no Jew has had to worry about having the doors closed to them as they were during world War II. Hundreds of thousands of Jews escaped from Arab persecution in operations Ali Baba and Magic Carpet.
And who will ever forget operations Moses, Joshua and Solomon, when more than 20,000 Ethiopian Jews were secretly airlifted to Israel. In recent months more than 1,000 Ethiopians were secretly brought in from Qwara. Can you imagine another nation doing such a thing? It brings to mind William Safire's remark that “For the first time in history, thousands of black people are being brought to a country not in chains but in dignity.” Those Ethiopians were on the lowest rung of one of the world’s poorest societies and today, less than 15 years after Operation Moses, are productive members of Israel’s high-tech society.
And speaking of that high-tech society. Do you realize how remarkable it is for a country the size of New Jersey, with such a small population to have become a developed nation so quickly? In recent years, Israel has had one of the highest economic growth rates in the world, a record made all the more amazing by the fact that in 1985, Israel had triple digit inflation and needed emergency aid from the U.S. government. Last year, inflation was 6% and Israel is now recognized as one of the world’s leading centers of research and development.
When you talk about Israel's accomplishments this century, you also have to mention the special alliance with the United States. Virtually every U.S. government agency has an agreement to cooperate with its counterpart in Israel. At least 22 states have their own agreements to promote state to state exchanges in trade, agriculture, education, culture and other areas of mutual interest. Over the last three decades, the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been evolving so that today it is one of the strongest in the world. Americans have a special affection toward Israelis that is reflected in public opinion polls and a vast array of cooperative projects in every conceivable field of endeavor.
In addition, roughly 10,000 American companies do business in or with Israel including Fortune 500 companies like Intel, Microsoft, IBM, McDonald’s and Baxter Healthcare. And they're not doing it because they’re Zionists. U.S. businesses have learned that Israel is a great place to make a profit, to tap into a large pool of extraordinary talent and to serve as a gateway to the European market.
It is fashionable to criticize Israel and say that we should look at the country as it is rather than as we've idealized it. That's fine. We don't have to hide Israel's faults, but the truth is our enemies have never hesitated to publicize our shortcomings, so that information is readily available. What most people never hear about is the glorious record of the Zionist pioneers and their modern successors. If we don't blow our own shofar, who will?