Celebrating Israel

There is no shortage of negative news about Israel; Every once in a while we Israelis should remember there is much for which to be proud.

Israel from space 1 (photo credit: NASA/BARRY WILMORE)
Israel from space 1
(photo credit: NASA/BARRY WILMORE)
 In large part due to slanted media reports, propaganda and downright lies, impressions of Israel worldwide tend to be negative – particularly among those who have never visited the country.
But according to the UN Human Development Index released this week, things in the Jewish state are not so bad. In fact, they are pretty good.
The index, which takes into consideration income, life expectancy and education for a combined development score, ranks Israel 18 out of 188 countries in human development. Not only did Israel’s score surpass by far all of its neighbors (Qatar is the highest ranked Arab state at No. 32; Saudi Arabia, 36; Lebanon 67; Jordan 80; Egypt, 108; and war-torn Syria at 134), but it outscored the EU and OECD averages as well. Countries such as France, Spain, Italy and even Japan scored lower than Israel. Sub-Saharan Africa scored the lowest.
A number of factors come together to give Israel one of the highest scores in the world. For instance, Israel has the second lowest rate of maternal mortality in the world with just two deaths for every 100,000 births. And at 2.9 births per woman, the Jewish state manages to maintain such a low mortality rate while having the highest fertility rate of any country in the “Very High Human Development” category (those countries ranked in the top 49). For the sake of comparison, the US has 28 maternal deaths per 100,000 births at a two-birthsper- woman average.
Though one could easily get the impression from the news media that it is dangerous to live in Israel, the reality is much different. Homicides, or unlawful deaths purposely inflicted by one person on another in Israel from 2008 to 2012 were 1.8 per 100,000 people.
In the US the rate was 4.7 per 100,000. Still, Israel’s homicide rate is higher than in most EU countries.
For instance, in the UK and France the rate was 1 per 100,000.
Israel’s suicide rate was relatively low at 9.8 male suicides per 100,000 – the ninth lowest – and 2.2 female suicides per 100,000 females – the eighth lowest.
And, finally, with regard to overall life satisfaction, only the happy residents of Switzerland, Denmark and Iceland registered greater satisfaction with their lives, on a scale of 0-10, than Israelis.
What makes Israel’s ranking so impressive is that it was managed while facing nearly unsurmountable challenges. Israel has managed to build a successful nation and society within an incredibly short time while waging wars with its neighbors and incorporating a large Arab minority that is at best indifferent to the Zionist enterprise.
Since its establishment the State of Israel has absorbed millions of immigrants, more than half of them from underdeveloped Muslim countries or Ethiopia.
Many of the others came from Eastern European countries that lacked a culture of democracy and liberal capitalism.
And while many of the countries that ranked highest on the UN list had the privilege of taking several centuries to build the institutions and develop the sorts of habits that characterize successful societies – a political culture based on compromise and tolerance and a business culture based on trust, cooperation and optimism – Israel had to hit the ground running.
Industrial and social revolutions happened suddenly.
The consequences of several technological revolutions had to be digested all at once. Though young Israel is far from perfect – economic inequality is too high, rent-seeking elites have too much economic power – the Zionist state has fared pretty well considering everything.
Publication of the UN Human Development Index presents a unique opportunity to celebrate Israel’s astounding achievements. This is not say that there is no room for improvement. But sometimes taking the time to appreciate all that has been accomplished provides the strength to face future challenges with courage and optimism. There is no shortage of negative news about Israel. Every once in a while we Israelis should remember there is much for which to be proud.