Israel at 70: Prosperous, Powerful, Weary, Wary Dan Perry and Josef Federman, Middle East Correspondents for the Associated Press, Offer a Status Report on the Jewish State

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), April 22, 2018 | Go to article overview

Israel at 70: Prosperous, Powerful, Weary, Wary Dan Perry and Josef Federman, Middle East Correspondents for the Associated Press, Offer a Status Report on the Jewish State


JERUSALEM

Is Israel a success as it turns 70? As Israelis commemorate the milestone this week, satisfaction and a grim disquiet share the stage.

Israel has a standard of living that rivals Western Europe, without the natural resources. It can boast of scientific achievements and military and technological clout beyond its modest size. It controls most of biblical Israel and, despite widespread criticism of its policies toward the Palestinians, it has cultivated good diplomatic ties with most of the world.

But it's also a country that is weary from decades of conflict with the Palestinians. It is riven by religious, ethnic and economic divisions. It is still seeking recognition in a region that has not fully come to terms with the presence of a Jewish state.

Its founding declaration offers it as a "light unto the nations," but it still is regularly accused of war crimes against Palestinians, millions of whom it has controlled for decades without the right to vote.

The grand peace hopes of the 1990s have mostly evaporated. Israel still feels endangered, with well-armed adversaries calling for its destruction and no permanent borders. Israelis are fretting over the possibility of war with archenemy Iran, which has a military presence in neighboring Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite winning three elections since 2009, is reviled by many and faces corruption scandals.

A look at Israel at 70:

Wealth and economic inequality

Fueled by a vibrant high-tech sector, Israel's per capita GDP of almost $40,000 ranks with Italy and South Korea, and is within reach of Britain and France.

But it also suffers from one of the highest levels of inequality in the developed world, and poverty is especially prevalent among its Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

These two sectors, at nearly a third of the population and growing, risk dragging down the rest of the economy.

Punching above its weight

For a country of just under 9 million, Israel has enjoyed surprising success. It counts eight living Nobel winners among its citizens and has helped give the world instant messaging, Intel chips and smart, autonomous vehicles. High-tech units in the military have made Israel a global cybersecurity powerhouse.

It is in a small club of nations to have launched a satellite and is widely believed to be among an even smaller group with nuclear weapons, although the government won't confirm it. Israel has one of the world's strongest air forces.

It has won European basketball championships and song contests, and hit shows like "Homeland," ''In Treatment" and "Fauda" are Israeli creations. Last year's blockbuster "Wonder Woman"- the highest-grossing live-action movie directed by a woman - starred Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

Forging a national identity

Despite decades of development, Israel is still working at forging a national identity.

Over a century ago, Zionists in Europe saw the Jews as a nation, not just a religion. Persecution in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, sent European Jews pouring into the Holy Land.

Soon after Israel's establishment in 1948, they were joined by immigrants from countries such as Morocco, Yemen, Iraq and Iran.

These Middle Eastern, or Mizrahi, Jews had little in common with their European counterparts. They were poorer, more religious and often targets of discrimination. Three generations of integration and intermarriage have blurred the distinctions, but gaps remain.

Arrivals from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have made Israel even more diverse, yet the different communities still often keep to themselves.

The entire arrangement can seem an affront to the founding idea of the Jews as a nation - yet it is also a rare feat that all of these have been forged into a Hebrew-speaking population with considerable national pride.

Still, antipathy exists along cultural lines: Many Europeans, still said to account for perhaps half the Jews in Israel, cannot stand the popular Arabic-style "Mizrahi music" that in earlier days was suppressed; Moroccan-descended Culture Minister Miri Regev once boasted she does not read Chekhov. …

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