How do you view the material success of others? Do you see it as a product of classist exploitation—a selfish triumph that one attains at the expense of his neighbors—or do you see it as an inspiring achievement that enriches the community as a whole?
If you chose the latter, then you have passed “The Israel Test,” the title of a new book by George Gilder that examines the fundamental differences in how cultures view achievement. “The essence of the Israel test [is to] avoid envy and give way to admiration and emulation,” said Gilder at an American Enterprise Institute discussion of his book on July 28th.
“The world is dividing into those who see others as victims and those who still think human achievement is to be celebrated,” said AEI scholar Charles Murray, citing Israel and the United States as two of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world.
Gilder argued that much of the success of the U.S. and Israel is due to the innovation of the Jewish people, stating that “almost all of the major scientific achievements of the 20th Century were accomplished by Jews.”
For a country that is only 60 years old and boasts a population that is smaller than New York City, the extent of Israel’s success has been unprecedented. The 2008-2009 World Economic Forum Global Competitive Index Report ranked Israel first in the world for research and development investments and 2nd for venture capital availability.
Many of the popular technologies that we use today were invented in Israel. The Pentium MMX Chip used in all current computers, the technology for voicemail, and AOL Instant Messenger are just three examples of Israeli inventions. In addition, many major companies like Microsoft, Google, and IBM run oversees operations out of Israel, which Gilder called “an extension of Silicon Valley.”
But while Gilder praised Israeli and Jewish accomplishments, he also noted the problems that come along with them. “[Jewish achievement] frightens people and results in ghastly reactions,” he contended.
The alleged disproportionate success of Jews in comparison to their numbers in society has been historically cited by both supporters and enemies of the Jewish community. This argument was often used in Nazi propaganda during Germany’s Third Reich, and allegations that a powerful “Jewish Lobby” controls U.S. policy still linger among fringe anti-Semitic and radical Islamic groups today.
In a July 24th article in Arab News titled “How Israel Lobby Controls U.S.,” Jeff Gates points to Jewish achievement and wealth as evidence of a supposed Zionist conspiracy. “[Forty-two] percent of the largest political donors to the 2000 election cycle were Jewish…Of the Forbes 400 richest Americans, 25 percent are Jewish,” he wrote.
At AEI, Murray called on the U.S. to continue to defend Israel against its many enemies, noting our multitude of shared ideals and values. “If the U.S. allows Israel to be defeated, it is the defeat on a mammoth scale of…everything this country is founded upon. The failure of Israel means America stops being America to some extent,” he said.
However, it appears that the U.S. policy toward the Jewish state may be shifting away from the pro-Israel policies of the George W. Bush administration. In recent weeks, President Barack Obama has been putting pressure on Israel to freeze Jewish settlement building in the heavily-Palestinian populated area of the West Bank.
According to the Chicago Tribune, in an effort to “jump-start Arab-Israeli peace talks, Obama has called for a complete halt to Israeli construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.”
Gilder believes this is a mistake, and argued that the economy of the West Bank was created and is propped up by the Jewish settlements. “Without the settlements…Palestinians wouldn’t want to live in the [West Bank],” he contended.
Referring to the collapse of the economic infrastructure in Gaza after the 2005 Israeli disengagement, Gilder said that “without the men of production, the means of production are just so much dirt and iron.”