Aryeh’s violin: The Improbable Happiness of Israelis (& Turkish brawl as MPs beat up Kurds)

May 11, 2016


[Note by Tom Gross]

This evening, Israel begins its Independence Day celebrations, as the Jewish state celebrates its 68th birthday. I attach four articles of interest below about Israel, famously dismissed as “a shitty little country” by the French ambassador to London.

Meanwhile, as many so-called progressive journalists, academics and NGOs continue to criticize (or in some cases demonize) Israel at almost every opportunity, they all but ignore the misbehavior of countries the world over.

To cite one small example, here is a video of President Erdogan’s thugs, in the parliament of NATO member and prospective EU member Turkey, beat up Armenian and Kurdish MPs. This one-minute footage from CNN makes for painful viewing if you watch it to the end.


The articles below follow other recent items, such as “Vogue latest international glossy to recommend Israel as top tourist destination” and “Israel rated fourth best country to raise a family”, in this dispatch.

(Incidentally, I have injured my hand, it is hard to type, and I may not be able to reply to many emails.)


* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.




The Improbable Happiness of Israelis
Global surveys find Israel high on happiness and life-satisfaction rankings – despite threats all around.
By Avinoam Bar-Yosef
Wall Street Journal
May 10, 2016

The World Happiness Report 2016 Update ranks Israel (Jews and Arabs) 11th of 158 countries evaluated for the United Nations. Israel also shines as No. 5 of the 36 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries on the OECD’s Life Satisfaction Index – ahead of the U.S., the U.K. and France.

How can this be so? Israelis live in a hostile and volatile neighborhood, engaged in an endless conflict with the Palestinians and under the threat of nuclear annihilation by Iran. If you crunch the different components of these indexes, Israel falls much further down the lists. It ranks only 24th in GDP per capita, and comes in at No. 30 of the 36 OECD countries on security and personal safety. Israel has only the 17th-highest per capita income in the world.

But Israelis do not rank as stupid on any index. Israel was the fifth-most innovative country in the 2015 Bloomberg Innovation Index, and a 2014 OECD study ranked it fourth in the percentage of adults with a higher education.

So what explains the Israeli paradox? Do Israelis only become stupid when thinking about their own happiness?

The explanation probably lies in indicators not considered in standard surveys. For instance, a new study by the Jewish People Policy Institute, looked at pluralism in Israel and found that 83% of Israel’s Jewish citizens consider their nationality “significant” to their identity. Eighty percent mention that Jewish culture is also “significant.” More than two-thirds (69%) mention Jewish tradition as important. Strong families and long friendships stretching back to army service as young adults, or even to childhood, also foster a sense of well-being. All of these factors bolster the Jewish state’s raison d’être.

This year, May 12 will mark the 68th anniversary of Israel’s founding, when a nation was created against all odds. The enormous challenges never eroded Israelis’ energy, or hope.

David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, once said: “We will know we have become a normal country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew.” Well, in this respect Israel has done much better than he could have dreamed: with one ex-president in jail for rape, and a former prime minister locked up for corruption. Israelis find comfort in the fact that the high and mighty are treated the same under the law as common crooks.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who died in 2014, once recalled that after finishing a day’s work with his father in their Kfar Malal fields, he had pointed out in frustration how much was left to be plowed. His father, Samuel, told him to turn around and take in how much they had done.

In every aspect of Israel’s existence there is plenty left to be plowed – plenty of room for improvement. Yet Israelis take comfort in looking back and savoring how much has been achieved, how sovereignty over the land of their forefathers was reclaimed. At least 60% of the Israeli population, now eight million, are Jewish immigrants or their children. Jews from more than 90 countries, of all colors and walks of life, are united in one society. They cherish the sense of self-determination.

And it isn’t just Jews. Go to any beach or shopping mall and – despite the frictions – you will see Jews and Arabs peacefully coexisting. They all can take pride in their country’s accomplishments, as when Israel faced a water crisis a decade ago and launched a desalination project that is now the envy of the world.

In 1964, my close childhood friend, Aryeh Argani, a young Israeli Defense Force pilot, was killed in action. Since then I have visited his grave every spring on Independence Day. Three years ago, I got a phone call from his squadron telling me that they had noticed that no one was participating in the official memorials for Aryeh. He had been an only child, and the sorrow destroyed his parents. The squadron had learned that he and I had been friends, and they invited me to attend a memorial for Aryeh. In the pilots’ club of Squadron 103, I found, a corner of the club is dedicated to Aryeh’s memory. His violin rests there.

These kinds of things make Israelis proud and happy. If the global happiness and satisfaction index could measure them, we might get a better grip on the Israeli paradox.

(Mr. Bar-Yosef is a former chief diplomatic correspondent and Washington bureau chief for the Israeli daily Maariv.)



68 Reasons To Respect, If Not Love, Israel On Its 68th Birthday
By Robert Sarner
The Forward
May 9, 2016

This week, as Israel celebrates the 68th anniversary of its hard-won independence, it’s worth celebrating the unlikely success story of this embattled little country, amid all its imperfections.

Like other countries, Israel is a work in progress. Blemishes abound and Israelis are the first to criticize and question their own shortcomings: political corruption, a dysfunctional electoral system, the extortion and blackmail of the ultra-Orthodox parties, the rampant economic iniquities, the status of Israeli Arabs, the treatment of Ethiopian immigrants, the situation of Palestinians in the West Bank, the plight of African refugees. The problems are longstanding and a searing indictment of Israeli leadership.

But show me another country on the planet that, within such a relatively short time and against such daunting odds, has done what Israel has achieved since its inception in 1948. So, in honor of its birthday, here are 68 reasons to respect, if not always love, the world’s one and only Jewish country.

1) Israel’s Save A Heart organization performs life-saving heart operations for children from around the globe – including many Palestinians – free of charge.

2) With its freedom of worship, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the number of Christians is increasing.

3) Israel is the only country in the world that has more trees today than it had 50 years ago.

4) Israeli bank notes have Braille on them for the sight-impaired.

5) Israel has more museums per capita than any other country, including the world’s only one underwater.

6) Israel has its own day-long festival of love, called Tu B’Av.

7) Relative to its population, Israel has absorbed more immigrants than any other country, with newcomers from more than 100 countries.

8) Voicemail technology was developed in Israel.

9) The IDF is a leader in saving people trapped by natural and man-made disasters. On short notice, its search and rescue unit has operated in many countries (including Mexico, Kenya, India, Turkey and the U.S.) following earthquakes, train wrecks, collapsed buildings and terrorist attacks.

10) Israel is home to the world’s only theater company comprised entirely of deaf and blind actors.

11) Life expectancy in Israel is among the highest in the world, at 82 years.

12) Coffee and cafés are so good in Israel that it’s the only country where Starbucks failed trying to break into the local market.

13) On a per capita basis, Israel tops the list of countries when it comes to the annual production of scientific papers.

14) The long-running TV show Eretz Nehederet (It’s a Wonderful Country) features Israeli humor and satire at its best, with a no-holds barred view of current affairs and public figures. Skewering sacred cows, it’s hugely popular.

15) Israel has won more Nobel Prizes than all other Middle East countries combined.

16) Israel regularly offers free medical care to Syrians wounded in their civil war. At physical risk, the IDF has rescued more than 2,000 people (including many fighters who are sworn enemies of Israel) on its northeastern border and transferred them to Israeli hospitals.

17) Israel is the only country that revived an ancient, unspoken tongue, Hebrew, to be its national language.

18) One of the holiest sites and international centers of the Bahai faith is located in Haifa in northern Israel.

19) In a region where LGBT people are persecuted, Israel is the only country where they enjoy such a level of civil rights.

20) In Israeli hospitals, Jewish and Arab doctors work together, treating patients of all faiths.

21) More than 90% of Israeli homes use solar power to heat their water.

22) On Yom Kippur, almost the entire country shuts down for 24 hours: all stores, cafés, restaurants and other places of entertainment. Traffic is halted as children take over the streets on their bicycles.

23) The Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind assists all citizens, regardless of race or creed, with 24/7 canine accompaniment, at no cost, to help the sight-impaired gain independence and mobility.

24) First launched in Israel in 2011, bus-stop mini-libraries, offering books free of charge, have inspired similar initiatives in other countries.

25) Israel has the highest proportion of water used for irrigation that comes from recycled wastewater.

26) Two professors at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University created the first cherry tomatoes.

27) UNESCO declared Tel Aviv a heritage site for its 4,000 surviving Bauhaus buildings erected in the 1930s and 40s.

28) Beersheba, in Israel’s Negev desert, has the largest number of chess grandmasters per capita than any other city in the world.

29) In 2012, Israel became the first country to prohibit the use of underweight models in fashion shows.

30) Security measures (much of them unseen) at Ben Gurion Airport are the best in the world.

31) Such is the strength of family values that Friday night dinners with extended family are a near-sacred weekly fixture, even for those who consider themselves hip and cool.

32) An Israeli start-up invented a non-touch, radiation-free device, Babysense, that prevents crib death by monitoring a baby’s breathing and movement during sleep.

33) Israel’s unofficial national sport is a popular paddleball beach game called Matkot. It’s played by men and women of all ages and fitness levels. There are no winners or losers, just two people trying to sustain a rally.

34) Israel has the world’s highest rate of university degrees on a per capita basis.

35) Bob Dylan’s official 2013 video for his iconic 1965 song “Like A Rolling Stone” was hailed as revolutionary. The interactive clip, which allows viewers to switch through 16 channels on a virtual TV, is the work of a Tel Aviv start-up called Interlude.

36) Israel developed the technology that allowed for the original cell phone.

37) The Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is the world’s oldest continuously used cemetery.

38) There’s no capital punishment, even for terrorists who carry out pre-meditated mass murder of unarmed children and adults.

39) Israel has more orchestras per capita than any other country.

40) Two Israelis at Tel Aviv University invented an “Anti-Date Rape Straw” which detects the two most common date rape drugs placed in drinks and alerts intended victims.

41) Israel’s most recent victory in the Eurovision song contest was by a transgender pop star.

42) Israel has taken great risk – often in covert, dangerous operations – to rescue Jews in distress around the world, such as in Yemen, Ethiopia and Iraq.

43) Despite a high cost of living, there are relatively few beggars and homeless people on Israeli streets.

44) Israel’s dairy cows are unrivaled in their annual production of milk (averaging 25,430 pounds of milk per year).

45) An Israeli company developed the first ingestible video camera that helps doctors diagnose cancer and digestive disorders.

46) Israel places such a high value on the lives of its citizens that it often goes to extraordinary lengths to win their freedom. It has engaged in wildly lopsided deals, exchanging up to 1,500 Palestinian security prisoners (many mass murderers) for a few soldiers and to retrieve the bodies of others.

47) Many popular American TV shows originated in Israel. “Homeland,” “In Treatment” and “Rising Star,” among others, were based on Israeli programs.

48) Salim Joubran, an Israeli Arab judge, became a permanent member on the country’s Supreme Court in 2004. He was the first Arab to chair the Central Elections Committee.

49) Israel has more in-vitro fertilization per capita than any other country, and it’s free.

50) Numerous studies show Israel as one of the best countries in which to raise children.

51) Israelis are famous for being argumentative and yelling at each other in disputes but relatively few throw punches or threaten to sue.

52) There’s only one significant freshwater lake in Israel, known outside as the Sea of Galilee, and locally as Lake Kinneret. It’s the world’s lowest freshwater lake and provides most of the country’s drinking water.

53) Israeli engineers invented a new form of drip irrigation that minimizes the amount of water needed to grow crops.

54) Given its tiny size and small population, Israel sometimes feels like one big family. A collective spirit reigns, like in few other places.

55) A Jerusalem high-tech company specializing in artificial vision has invented a tiny camera to help drivers navigate more safely. The device, called Mobile Eye, is being built into many new cars around the world.

56) The Weizmann Institute has developed treatment that offers new hope for prostate cancer patients in 2016. Targeting tumors without damaging a man’s genitalia, urinary tract or quality of life, the treatment has so far proven effective.

57) You can’t escape the news in Israel. Everyone talks about it and bus drivers play the radio for all to hear, including the hourly newscasts.

58) A device developed in Israel is providing people suffering from glaucoma with relief and an effective alternative to traditional surgery.

59) Every year, Israelis, wherever they are, stand for two minutes in silence in memory of Holocaust victims as sirens wail. Likewise on Memorial Day, Israelis, stand for two minutes in honor of fallen soldiers as sirens wail.

60) The popular mobile mapping program, Waze, was developed in Israel. Google purchased the GPS-based navigation app in 2013 for a reported $1.3 billion.

61) Israelis are incurably direct and informal, even with those they don’t know. Usually with good intentions and a helpful spirit, they have a penchant for offering unsolicited advice on how you can do something better.

62) Sesame-seed paste is a staple of the Israeli diet. Known as tahina or tahini, the country produces it in two-dozen flavors and more than 50 flavors of the tahini-based treat called halva, selling it around the world.

63) It’s harder to be lonely in Israel as strangers strike up conversations with each other in public, and enjoy inviting people for holiday meals.

64) Passengers on Israel’s national airline El Al clap for the pilots when their flights touch down at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.

65) In a country where disaster can strike suddenly, spontaneity often trumps advance planning as part of a live-for-now approach.

66) In 2011, after years of being attacked with rockets from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, Israel unveiled the Iron Dome air defense system, which intercepts and destroys short-range missiles and mortars.

67) Israelis show one of their best sides when it comes to lending a helping hand to friends – and strangers.

68) Despite the tough neighborhood they live in, numerous studies rank Israelis among the happiest people among Western nations.

If all this doesn’t constitute a success story, I don’t know what does. Given the indomitable spirit, boundless ingenuity, resourcefulness and determination of Israel, there’s every reason to believe it will continue. And the world should be thankful it does.



The meaning of true independence
By Colonel Richard Kemp
Israel Hayom
May 11, 2016

“What kind of talk is this, ‘punishing Israel?’ Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic? Are we 14-year-olds who, if we misbehave, get our wrists slapped? Let me tell you whom this Cabinet comprises. It is composed of people whose lives were marked by resistance, fighting and suffering.”

These were the words of Prime Minister Menachem Begin delivered to the U.S. President Ronald Reagan in December 1981. Begin, one of the greatest leaders and fighters of our times, knew the meaning of true independence.

He knew that it was not about firecrackers, dancing in the streets or lighting flames. It was about standing up for yourself and submitting to no man. Declaring to the world, “this is where we stand.”

Israel’s independence was bought at a high price in Jewish blood, fighting first against the might of the British Empire and then against five powerful Arab armies which sought its destruction.

For 68 years Israelis have fought again and again to defend their independence against enemies who would subjugate their country. No other nation has struggled so long and so hard, surrounded by such unyielding hostility.

But in making their stand, Israelis have never had to stand alone. From the beginning, Jews from the U.K., the U.S., Europe, Australia, South Africa and around the world rallied to the fight for independence under the glorious banner of the Mahal. Among them were non-Jews, including a Christian soldier from my own regiment.

In the years since, and even today, the courage of their young successors, the “lone soldiers”’ of the diaspora, travelling thousands of miles from the safety of their homes to stand and fight here to preserve Israel’s independence, inspires awe and humility. As Begin said: “This is the land of their forefathers, and they have a right and a duty to support it.”

Israel’s independence has a strength that cannot be known by those who have not had to struggle for their freedom. What is the meaning of this independence?

It means that Israel’s right to exist is not to be sanctioned by the peoples of the Middle East or by the leaders of the Western world. It is to be determined only by the Jewish people who, down the millennia, have fought, suffered and died for that inalienable right.

It means that Israel is not to have its borders imposed by international bodies or by foreign states, no matter how powerful they might be. It means that Israelis are not to be dictated to about where they can and cannot settle in their land. It means that Israel is not to be told how it may or may not defend the lives of its people under the sovereign independence of the law. It means that Israel is not to be lectured or scolded about human rights by those that have no glimmer of understanding of what human rights truly are.
The civilized world has an obligation to respect this independence just as it respects the independence of other free, democratic nations.

Israel has shown mankind how a besieged nation – against all odds – can survive and flourish, decide its own destiny and unwaveringly retain its honour, its decency, its dignity, its integrity and its compassion. It was not for nothing that British Premier Winston Churchill described the Jewish people as “beyond any question, the most formidable and most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.”

Today not just Israel but the whole of civilization should celebrate the independence of the nation that continues to shine a beacon light onto that world.

(Col. Richard Kemp is a former commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan.)



At 68 – is Israel isolated?
By Yoram Ettinger
Israel Hayom
May 8, 2016

Secretary of State John Kerry and other Western policy-makers – joined by the “elite” Western media – contend that 68 year-old Israel is increasingly isolated due to its defiance of global pressure to evacuate the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, which tower over Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport and 80% of Israel’s population, transportation, technological and business infrastructure.

Since 1948, global pressure on Israel to commit itself to dramatic concessions has been a fixture of Israel’s foreign policy and public diplomacy, accompanied by warnings that Israel was dooming itself to painful isolation. An examination of Israel’s global position – economically, militarily and diplomatically – documents that irrespective of Israel’s uphill diplomatic challenges, these warnings crashed on the rocks of reality, and resoundingly refuted by an unprecedented integration of Israel with the global street.

Thus, side-by-side with the rough diplomatic talk which has always pounded Israel, there has been an increasingly mutually-beneficial, geo-strategic walk. This is highlighted by Israel’s unprecedented civilian and military integration with the international community, in response to growing international demand for Israel’s military, economic, technological, scientific, medical, pharmaceutical and agricultural cutting-edge innovations.

Israel’s increasingly global integration is reflected by a series of developments in the last few weeks, which are consistent with Israel’s well-documented 68-year-old track record on the global scene.

For example, notwithstanding Europe’s support of the Palestinian Authority and harsh criticism of Israel, NATO does not subscribe to the “isolate Israel” theory, follows its own order of geo-strategic priorities, and therefore refuses to cut off its nose to spite its face. Hence, on May 3, 2016, NATO significantly upgraded its ties with Israel, inviting Jerusalem to establish a permanent mission at their Brussels headquarters. This upgrade will expand the surging, mutually-beneficial Israel-NATO cooperation in the areas of counter-terrorism, intelligence, battle tactics, non-conventional warfare, science, cyber and space technologies and defense industries, where Israel possesses a unique competitive edge.

While Turkey’s President, Erdogan, has blasted Israel brutally on the diplomatic field, Turkey did not block the recent agreement between NATO and Israel. Moreover, the Israel-Turkey balance of trade has catapulted from $2.5 BN in 2009 to over $5 BN in 2015. Turkey has not ignored the unique niches of Israel’s exports in the area of defense, medicine, pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

India, the seventh largest – and one of the fastest rising – economies in the world, has become one of Israel’s closest partners – second only to the USA – in the areas of defense, counter-terrorism, intelligence, manufacturing, agriculture, irrigation, information technologies, space, etc.. Oblivious of the “isolate Israel” school of thought, India has become the largest customer for Israel’s defense systems, with Israel trailing only the US and Russia in terms of military sales to India. On March 29, 2016, Israel’s Rafael Advance Defense Systems concluded a long-term agreement with India’s $15 BN Reliance Defense Systems, which is expected to produce $10 BN in sales. A year and a half ago, Rafael won a $500 MN contract for the supply of missiles to India’s ground forces.

Aiming to leverage the momentum-gaining “integrate Israel” trend, China’s $10 BN Kuang-Chi technology conglomerate is launching an Israel-based international innovation Chinese fund to invest in early, to mid-stage Israeli and global companies, reflecting the vigorous Chinese interest in mature and start-up Israeli companies. Chinese investments in Israeli companies expanded from $70 MN in 2010 to $2.7 BN in 2015, while the China-Israel trade balance surged from $30 MN in 1992 to $11 BN in 2015. The trade balance could have been dramatically larger, but for Israel’s cautious attitude, in light of China’s close ties with Israel’s enemies. China has followed in the footsteps of the Hong-Kong-based tycoon, Li Ka-Shing, whose venture capital fund, Horizons Ventures, invested in 30 Israeli companies, accounting for almost half of its portfolio.

The 250 global high-tech giants, which established research and development centers in Israel, expose the isolation of “Israel’s isolators” from the real world. For instance, on February 22, 2016, Oracle ($156 BN, 136,000 employees) – which operates four centers in Israel - acquired Israel’s five-year-old Ravello for $500 MN, its fifth Israeli acquisition. On March 3, 2016, Cisco Systems ($135 BN, 72,000 employees) acquired its 12th Israeli company, Leaba Semiconductor, for $350 MN. On March 10, 2016, Intel ($144 MN, 100,000 employees, 10,000 of them in Israel) acquired its 9th Israeli company, Replay Technologies, for $175 MN. In 2015, Intel – which is currently investing $130 MN in a new center in Israel - exported $4.1 BN from its manufacturing plant in Israel. Some 60 Israeli start-ups are included in the portfolio of Intel Capital. In 2015, global pharmaceutical giants – such as MSD, Bayer, Astrazeneca, Novartis, Pfizer, Abbvie, Janssencilag, Roche, Merck and Eli Lilly – invested $150 MN (compared to $130 MN in 2014 and $100 MN in 2012) in ground-breaking, medical research, conducted in leading Israeli hospitals.

Leading investment funds have been veteran supporters of the “integrate Israel” school-of-thought. For instance, the Silicon Valley (Menlo Park)-based Lightspeed raised $1.2 BN for its 11th fund dedicated to US and Israeli start-ups. The Israeli investment funds, FIMI, Vertex Ventures and Israel Secondary Fund-2 raised – mostly from overseas investors - $1.1 BN, $150 MN and $100 MN respectively.

Reaffirming the “integrate Israel” reality, Fitch Ratings - one of the three credit rating organizations designated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – upgraded Israel’s credit rating outlook from “stable” to “positive,” while retaining its “A” rating. The upgrade generates a robust tailwind to foreign investments in – and foreign trade with – Israel. In April, 2016, when all advanced economies are struggling, Fitch Ratings lauds Israel’s thriving economy in comparison to other OECD countries. Fitch commends Israel for its success in overcoming intense national security and homeland security challenges; reducing the ratio of government debt to GDP from 95.2% in 2000 to 64.9% in December 2015; reducing the budget deficit to 2.1%, the lowest figure since 2008; bolstering foreign exchange reserves to $90.6 BN; and sustaining the strength of the shekel.

At 68, Israel is highly integrated into the key global disciplines, in defiance of Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that “if we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel.” The Secretary’s warning is overwhelmingly squelched by global reality, defies 71% of the US public, which considers Israel favorably according to the February, 2016 annual Gallup Poll, and is inconsistent with the US Congress’ systematic and massive support of Israel.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.