by Tsvi Bisk and Moshe Dror
It seems to me self-evident that a serious reevaluation of Jewish life must begin with the extraordinary success of the Zionist project in the 20th century. Israel, for better or worse, has dominated the Jewish landscape for as long as any of us can remember. Its successes and failures have stood at the center of Jewish discourse for a century.
The aims of classical Zionism were to create a Jewish state, concentrate a majority of the Jewish People within that state, integrate peacefully into the Middle East, achieve relative economic independence and build a model society. Let’s review the record.
We have established a state which, despite Arab hostility, has become part of the world community.
Israel is now the largest Jewish community in the world and within 10-15 years will be larger than the entire Diaspora
We have created a vital and highly developed economy despite what some researchers estimate as 44 billion dollars of economic harm caused by the Arab boycott since the establishment of Israel.
Israel has been slowly integrating into the region over the past two and a half decades (despite intifadas and wars).
The model society is still a distant vision to say the least.
The last three decades have seen extraordinary political achievements that were but fantastic dreams during the first decades of Israel’s existence. I would make the case that Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and the peace agreement with Egypt, the Madrid conference and the much maligned Oslo agreements with the Palestinians, as well as the subsequent peace agreement with Jordan represent Zionism’s greatest triumph since the creation of the State of Israel.
I say this because there has been an essential asymmetry between Arab and Zionist strategy following the creation of the State. Zionist strategy strove for Israel’s peaceful integration into the region while Arab strategy strove to drive the Jews out of the region. The peace process, as flawed as it is, is an unstated Arab admission that their strategy has failed and that Zionism’s has succeeded. This will remain the case no matter what the fate of the peace process following the second Intifada, the second Lebanese War or any other future crisis. What has been done cannot be undone, no matter how hard radical Islamists and Arab nationalists (and some Jews) try. They cannot deny that they sat with us in the same room, negotiated and signed peace treaties with us, conducted economic activity with us and made their own initiatives regarding a comprehensive settlement. Nor can they reverse other
consequences of these developments, such as Israel’s improved relationship with the rising powers of China and India which had been hindered because of these countries identification with the Arab cause. Even something as extreme as Egypt and Jordan revoking their treaties with Israel would not and could not cause China and India to revert to a position of status quo ante regarding their relationship with Israel.
Economic Achievements: Becoming Silicon Wadi
These political developments have had direct positive consequences for Israel’s economic health. Israel is a small country and dependent on exports. From 1991 (the Madrid Conference) to 2000 (the outbreak of the second Intifada) 60% of the growth in Israel’s exports were to countries with which we did not have full diplomatic and economic relations before 1991 (such as China and India). This was a major factor in Israel’s overall economic growth which averaged 4-5% a year during this period. Israel’s economy grew by 40% in the 90’s and we became a world class high-tech center – Silicon Wadi. This enabled us to absorb over one million new immigrants (which along with natural increase grew the Jewish population of Israel by 25%). This is why the peace process, no matter how flawed, is a Zionist asset in and of itself.
As a consequence of these economic achievements Israel has ceased to be dependent on Jewish philanthropy and will soon achieve independence from American aid. This is an outstanding accomplishment given the challenges
facing Israel. Many Diaspora Jews as well as non-Jews are under the mistaken impression that Israel would still not be able to survive without American aid or Diaspora contributions. The truth is that funds raised for Israel by all Jewish organizations represent about 1% of Israel’s GNP and 2% of Israel’s budget while American aid represents about 2% of Israel’s GNP and 4% of its budget.
In 2006 only 120 million dollars of American aid 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. All American aid to Israel is now military and totals a little over 2 billion dollars a year. 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 Moslem Gulf States totaled over a half a trillion dollars between the two Iraq wars. The military aid given to Israel during the same period was between 25-30 billion dollars. The difference is 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 troops pour into the local economies of these countries listed as foreign aid.
What is not commonly known is that most of America’s military 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).
25% of the military aid is discretionary and comes directly to Israel. This 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. The militarily relationship is much less one-sided than generally perceived and of minor importance to Israel’s economic wellbeing.
The threat to stop military aid as a means to pressure Israel into making decisions it would not otherwise make is simply wrongheaded. Fortunately this is recognized by most sophisticated policy makers in the United States and Europe. They know that Israel could now manage its security without such aid but also know that any arbitrary moves would make Israel more stubborn, not more flexible. They also know that a possible reaction might be to make its implicit nuclear capability explicit. This would almost certainly limit room for diplomatic maneuver and inflame the area even more.
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 a bargain – especially as it is the only military aid America gives to any of its allies that does not entail the stationing of American troops.
The declining impact of the Arab boycott; the opening of formerly closed world markets; the legitimization of Israel as an object of international investment and the continued growth of the Israeli economy will more than make up for the end of Jewish and American aid. Ending the false sense of security American aid gives Israel might even compel organizational and administrative efficiencies that would be beneficial to the Israeli economy in the long run. The point is that Israel has succeeded in becoming an independent country, a triumph of human energy, will and perseverance.