The big little country: love it or hate it, Israel can’t be stopped
Seen as the region's bad guy, it isn't trying to be a symbol of good or evil, it just goes about doing awesomely well
I was going to start with the words “I won’t claim to be impartial where Israel’s concerned”, but then I wondered, why bother? Most people aren’t.
To everyone from the BBC (I take great delight in being the only guest ever on Desert Island Discs to pick the Israeli national anthem) to the UN (more resolutions against it than any other state, just the kind of judgement one expects from a body which recently appointed Iran to the women’s rights panel), Israel is portrayed as the source of all unrest in a region that would otherwise be a paradise of peace-loving, civil rights-respecting countries all rubbing along together.
Then, on the other hand, there’s my small band, the philo-Semites, who, if we were forced to find one fault with Israel, it would be that there’s not enough of it. We range from Mark Twain through Marilyn Monroe to Helen Mirren; much anti-Semitism comes from envy, so it stands to reason that we Philos tend to be quite an impressive lot.
I’m an especially extreme one; indeed, when asked my opinion of various general elections, I have annoyed Israeli friends with the admittedly unsophisticated answer: “Whoever wins, we win!” The Middle East expert Julie Lenarz said it better last week: “Election day in Israel – a day to celebrate the fact that a people persecuted and killed for centuries have built a home in which to determine their own fate. It’s the ultimate defeat of Nazism.”
And there in the middle of their haters and their cheerleaders are the Israelis, just trying to be a country like any other, rather than a symbol of good or evil. They’re doing pretty well; just over 70 years since the ancient homeland of the Jews was reclaimed, they are already the 10th-oldest uninterrupted democracy in the world. This is a country where army generals run as centrist candidates, rather than plan coups and revolutions.
Thirteenth- Happiest Country, 10th-Healthiest Country, Seventh-Best Place to be Gay, Third-Most Educated – and, of course, the number-one “Start-Up Nation”. The book of the same name – by Dan Señor and Saul Singer, published a decade ago – asked why it was that a country the size of the Kruger Park, surrounded by enemies, with no natural resources, produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, stable nations like Japan and Canada, to the point where it has a larger venture capital industry per capita than literally any other country in the world. They came up with two main reasons: immigration (“Immigrants are not averse to starting from scratch – they are by definition risk-takers”) and the uniquely disrespectful set-up of the Israel Defence Forces, where military service is mandatory (“If you’re a junior officer, you call your higher-ups by their first names, and if you see them doing something wrong, you say so. Taxi drivers can command millionaires and 23-year-olds can train their uncles ... Israeli forces regularly vote to oust their unit leaders”).
In Europe, however, whereas other forms of racism fade with each generation, anti-Semitism has recruited new blood through the medium of anti-Zionism, leading to the upsurge of what I named “Fresh ’n’ Funky Fascism” – the left-wing kind that thrives on university campuses, as opposed to the fading right-wing, golf-club type. With typical stupidity, anti-Zionists claiming they’re not anti-Semites only make Zion stronger by sending their nation’s Jews fleeing there when the abuse gets too much. Good work, Magic Grandpa!
In an age of victim-virtue, Israel refuses the invitation to the self-pity party, and to me this is another secret of their success. I asked an Israeli: “How do you feel about the boycotts?” He laughed: “We never think about the boycotts – we’ve got more important things to get on with.”
They had to go home and go big. And how quickly they’ve progressed from being a few dispossessed people in a desert, while all around them there is a ceaseless reversal of human rights, from the brutality of Brunei to the self-inflicted tragedy of the Arab Spring. Their space-shot may have crash landed, but the start-up nation can’t be stopped.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)