Six unorthodox reasons to celebrate Independence Day - opinion

According to the latest UN World Happiness Report, Israelis are the ninth most cheerful people on the globe.

 OUR POLITICS might be chaotic, boisterous, volatile and unpredictable, but Israel remains the Middle East’s only genuine democracy. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
OUR POLITICS might be chaotic, boisterous, volatile and unpredictable, but Israel remains the Middle East’s only genuine democracy.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

1. Endless Traffic Gridlock

Next time you are stuck in Israel’s ubiquitous traffic congestion, remember that it is our amazing demographic and economic growth that has led to more people and more cars. 

From 806,000 inhabitants in 1948 to a population today of more than 9.2 million, the number of Israelis has increased more than eleven-fold. Especially high fertility rates for a Western country and successive waves of immigration have made Israel’s population one of the fastest-growing on the globe.

But not only are there more of us; we Israelis are increasingly affluent. If in 1960 Israel’s GDP per capita was only $1,229, by 2000 it was $21,101, by 2010 $30,694, and by 2020 $43,611. 

Over the past decade, this economic expansion, almost unsurpassed in the developed world, made Israel richer than five of the seven members of the prestigious G7 club of leading global economies: more prosperous than Canada, Japan, France, Britain and Italy. And this year, for the first time, the IMF’s estimates have Israel’s GDP per capita surpassing that of Germany (also a G7 member). 

Bottom line: If there were fewer of us, and we were poorer, you probably would not be complaining about the traffic. 

2. Yet another election?

The government coalition may have lost its Knesset majority and new elections may be sooner rather than later, but do not fret about going to the polls yet again. Remember this: our politics might be chaotic, boisterous, volatile, and unpredictable, but Israel remains the Middle East’s only genuine democracy. 

Across the vast geographic mass from Casablanca on Morocco’s Atlantic coast in the west, to Iranian Balochistan in the east, and from Aleppo in the north to sub-Saharan Africa’s Darfur in the south, it is only the Israelis in the Middle East who have consistently chosen their leaders through the ballot box, enjoyed a free media that can vehemently attack the government, and have openly and vociferously debated almost every political issue under the sun.

Israel’s politics might be anything but perfect, but our Arab neighbors, near and far, can only dream of the freedoms Israelis take for granted. Five elections for the Knesset in four years would be too much, but still significantly better than any available Middle Eastern alternative. And who knows, maybe the next election will produce a stable government (though do not bet on it).

3. Struggling with Hebrew 

If you are reading The Jerusalem Post, you might be one of those Israelis who have never mastered our people’s ancient tongue. Your failure to do so may be a cause of day-to-day anguish, but that is surely just a minor concern when compared to the enormity of the Hebraic renaissance. 

A language that until over a century ago was used primarily in prayers alone, is today spoken by a greater number of people than a host of established European national languages. More people speak Hebrew than Norwegian, Danish and Finnish; Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian; Serbian, Slovak, and Slovene. 

Moreover, national movements across Europe, including in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, have worked to renew the use of traditional languages to strengthen a sense of peoplehood, but none of them has had success anywhere close to that of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. 

4. Huge military budgets 

The array of security threats faced by Israel compels ever-expanding military budgets, money that could be much better spent on education, healthcare and infrastructure. 

But if in the past we gritted our teeth believing that this defense spending was an unfortunate but necessary demand on our national finances, today we know that military expenditure has a significant civilian upside. 

The engine pushing Israel’s dynamic economic growth has been our hi-tech sector, and where do the legions of young tech entrepreneurs come from if not from the military? We invest in them so that they can better protect our country, but on the completion of their service, these young men and women enter the marketplace, and their innovations are the driving force behind Israel’s ongoing tech boom.

Rather than viewing defense expenditure only as an unfortunate and unavoidable necessity, perhaps it should be seen as a low-risk investment in a more prosperous future. 

5. BDS

If you despair at those busily organizing an anti-Israel demonstration in Berkeley, boycotting an Israeli company in Brussels, or picketing an Israeli performer in Dublin, you should not.

Yes, there are many who do not like us. Yes, there are those who think Israel is the epicenter of evil on the planet. But this is nothing new. People have had weird thoughts about Jews for centuries. 

Instead of anguishing, extol the fact that this current bunch of haters is singularly ineffectual. While calling for a boycott of our products, across the globe Israeli innovation is increasingly sought after; the statistics on Israeli exports are only moving in one direction, and that is up.

Cultural boycotters fare no better. The reputation of Israeli cinema continues to soar, Israeli TV mini-series winning more and more prestigious global awards, and Israeli artists repeatedly enjoying international acclaim.

Those calling for Israel’s diplomatic isolation are similarly wallowing in futility. From Asia to Africa to Latin America, Israel’s foreign relations are continually expanding: just look at the ever-growing list of Arab peace partners. Even Turkey’s Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan is eager to upgrade Ankara’s ties with Israel. 

The boycotters may laud the endorsement of a noted students’ newspaper in Massachusetts, the support of a trade union in Quebec, and the capture of a local council in west Sydney, but these little league victories have minimal impact on Israel’s constantly rising standing in the real world.

6. Don’t worry, be happy

Although Israelis have every legitimate reason to be perturbed about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, it appears that these threats do not turn us into an agitated, depressed and miserable lot. On the contrary, our national morale remains unmistakably sanguine.

According to the latest UN World Happiness Report, Israelis are the ninth most cheerful people on the globe, happier than Austrians and Australians, than Americans and Canadians, than Brits and French, than Italians and Irish. 

Israelis still lag behind the Scandinavians, Swiss, Luxembourgers and Dutch, but none of these supposedly happier peoples have Israel’s sunshine, beaches and cuisine. 

If even murderous jihadis cannot stop Israelis from enjoying their lives, then this country really has a lot going for it, and that is surely something to celebrate. 

Happy Independence Day. 

The writer, formerly an adviser to the prime minister, is a senior visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Follow him at @MarkRegev on Twitter.