Festive cheer

Israelis have something to cheer about: Ben-Gurion Airport has been judged the best in Europe.

ben gurion airport298 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
ben gurion airport298 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Just in time for Hanukka, Israelis have something to cheer about: Ben-Gurion Airport has been judged the best in Europe. Among 40 of Europe's most popular destinations - including Brussels, Zurich and Amsterdam, to name just a few - Israel's gateway won top marks in a passenger satisfaction survey conducted by Airports Council International.
  • Ben Gurion ranked first in airport survey In a broader ranking of 77 airports from across the globe, Ben-Gurion placed an impressive fifth, outdone only by four sparkling airports in Southeast Asia. All this on its first try, only a year after the opening of the long-awaited Terminal 3. For Israelis, who are used to looking up at Europe from below and wondering when they will be able to enjoy the fruits of progress that abound on the continent, the result is a pleasant rarity. Calling it a Hanukka miracle would be going overboard - but it is a nice present for the holiday. What makes the survey of wider symbolic resonance, though, is that it comes on the heels of news that the international credit ranking company Fitch has upgraded its financial forecast for Israel, from "stable" to "positive." The company maintained its "A-" credit ranking for Israel, too. This is the latest evidence that Israel's economy is a resilient and powerful one. It has also received votes of confidence recently from the likes of moguls Donald Trump and Warren Buffet, with foreign investors in general continuing to show interest in the promise behind Israel's economy. That message is sorely needed now, in light of the severe damage caused to the North by this summer's war with Hizbullah. The monthlong conflict forced numerous businesses to shut down or to minimize their activity, and left the area's tourism industry devastated. Together with the damage and terror that the ongoing firing of Kassam rockets from Gaza causes to residents of the South, it would not have been surprising to see the economy suffer a contraction for the year. Happily, though, the economy rebounded quickly from this summer's shocks and has actually grown despite the setbacks. Although the total growth is less than Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer envisioned at the beginning of the year, the economy has managed to perform better than his revised forecast following the war with Hizbullah. In that light, the final estimate of 4.8 percent growth for the year is quite an accomplishment. "Given the country's strengths, with its extremely well developed labor force, level of education and human capital... there is no reason that Israel could not grow much faster and become one of the most prosperous countries in the world," Augusto Lopez-Claros, chief economist and head of the Global Competitiveness Network at the World Economic Forum, told The Jerusalem Post this month. Reasons to cloud such optimism abound, it need hardly be stressed. Israel is in the midst of a particularly challenging period - whether it looks north to Lebanon and Syria, to the growing chaos in the Palestinian areas, or slightly further afield to the Islamic extremists of an Iran edging ever closer to a nuclear capability. But our economic resilience, which in turn reflects the remarkable resilience of the Israeli public - albeit undermined by worrying inequalities - leaves plenty of room for an optimism that deserves to be highlighted even amid wider concerns. Other bright rays, shining down right now or on the immediate horizon, include the temporary influx of thousands of young Diaspora Jews on the impressive birthright-taglit program - spending 10 days here absorbing Israel. Birthright fosters an atmosphere that demonstrably bolsters Jewish identity, passion for Israel and a desire to stay involved among youngsters, none of whom had previously participated in an organized Israel program and many of whom would never otherwise have contemplated coming here. Philanthropist Sheldon Adelson is now pledging to donate $5 million to help birthright expand the scale of its laudable operations - boosting the extraordinary generosity of the program's founding and ongoing principal funders, Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, and their government and Jewish federation partners. The announcement of this gift is, of course, particularly appropriate at this festive time of year. And as its beneficiaries jet in to begin their unique first-hand Israel experience, they'll even get to land at the best airport in Europe.