Global Agenda: Face the facts

Too many Israelis prefer empty slogans to a serious debate.

global agenda 88 (photo credit: )
global agenda 88
(photo credit: )
There are times when, as a nation and as individuals, we must stop deluding ourselves, however gratifying it may be to live in a world of make believe. All too many people in Israel - from across a broad spectrum of social backgrounds, political views, religious affiliation and all the other definitions of division within our society - prefer to mouth empty slogans and worn out cliches, rather than conduct a serious debate that starts from and relates seriously basic facts about Israel. This is especially necessary at this time of year when, in the context of "introspection" and "soul-searching," you would expect people to make an effort to think outside the particular box in which they have passed their whole adult life. If indeed the goal is to correct what has gone wrong and improve things in the future - at the personal, communal and national levels - then the inescapable starting point is an accurate assessment of the way things are now. Yet there is virtually no hope of any such intelligent, truthful, fact-based effort being made. Instead, over the coming High Holiday period, rabbis and religious leaders of every denomination of Judaism, opinion formers in every form of communication media from print to radio to blogs, and just plain people gathered together as families, neighbors and friends, will continue the mindless Israel-bashing and criticism of every group within the national mosaic, every political entity and personality, every state institution. This collective self-flagellation has recently plumbed new depths in the wake of the Lebanon war. To suggest that this is both wrong and unhelpful is akin to pissing into a hurricane. However, just for the record, and in the unlikely event that anybody cares, here are a few boring facts about Israel during and at the end of 5766. This was, by far, the best year in the country's economic history. The evidence supporting this statement is far too voluminous for a short column, so let's just cite a few facts, however unpopular and unfashionable they and the conclusions they lead to may be. The balance of payment on current account - the summary of our real relations with the rest of the world, as opposed to the babble of the media and the United Nations - is in a state of steady and growing surplus. The surplus for the first half of 2006 reached 5 percent of GDP - historically unprecedented, globally rare and with huge positive implications for the future of the country. This occurred against a background of a sharp rise in oil prices, which creates a significant negative impact on the economy and, even more so, in the country's regional and global geopolitical standing. Let's interrupt at this point to note that the foregoing can be simply rephrased: The Israeli economy as it existed in the first 50 years of the state, and as generations of Jews in Israel and abroad were trained to think about it - as a nebbisch, living on schnorr - is no more. This is a rich country, getting rapidly richer. The government budget has also been in surplus, government debt has been declining and the government's role in the economy has been steadily shrinking. The labor force is growing, employment is rising and inflation is not an issue for anyone except professional economists. There is more - but this is already a very tough dose of facts for mainstream moaners and fashionable pessimists to absorb. What about the war, they will scream - that must surely have ruined these so-called achievements? Truth is, we don't yet know. It is certainly possible that our dysfunctional and virtually paralyzed political system may so screw things up that the achievements of recent years are reversed - but there are good grounds for believing that the damage from this source can be limited. Meanwhile, the first useful data on how the economy fared during and immediately after the war has been published. This is the Purchasing Manager's Index, which is based on a survey of real businessmen - not government officials or economists. The PMI index was doing fine in the first half of the year, but plunged in July - no surprise there. What is surprising, and very pleasantly so, is that it jumped straight back in August. The PMI is not comprehensive and it's certainly not conclusive - but it is a significant straw in the wind. It suggests that the Israeli business sector, so well-versed in adjusting to abrupt changes in the economic climate, is taking the war in its stride - and the overall economy is certainly capable of doing the same. In short, we're in great shape. Yes, we have problems, both at home - politics and poverty, and the connection between them; and abroad - many people want to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth, unoriginal and tiresome as that ambition may be. But we have the resources to solve all of them. What we need is the will. If everyone stopped belly-aching and faced the facts, maybe we could find it.