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An e-newsletter delivering updates and analysis on current issues about Israel and the Middle East conflict

January 20, 2010

The inspiring success story of Israel and the Jews: How can anyone support Israel's enemies?

Dear Friend of FLAME:

One evening over dinner with another couple, the husband told the story of someone making the comment to him that "Culture is dispositive."  Not understanding exactly what that meant, my friend asked for an explanation. 

The person who made the comment explained that cultural values incline people to certain outcomes, to certain societal results. The implication is that if you possess "good" cultural values, you and your people will turn out well.

My friend took immediate offense to this notion, because he felt it was a cheap and false justification for, say, the fact that black Americans generally still remain an underclass in America.

The notion that cultural values predispose people to a certain fate seemed to him like a kind of cruel determinism, giving misguided people---especially racists---the right to say that black Americans fail because of their "poor" cultural values, rather than the fact that they live in a society in which the deck is stacked against them.  I understood my friend's objection, and the subject was dropped.

But as I later thought about that notion---"culture is dispositive"---I kept coming around to the conclusion that it is true: Cultural values, no matter how you may acquire them, do indeed incline a person---or a people---to success or failure.  That's not determinism or a death sentence, because anyone is free to adopt cultural values that work and practices that lead one to success.

The idea that cultural values help people succeed is not a radical idea.  Who has not admired certain immigrant groups, like Chinese Americans, for their ability to overcome adversity---poverty, prejudice, language limitations---and achieve relatively rapid success in a foreign culture?  Why else would the Asian-American proportion of the student body at the University of California Berkeley now stand at a remarkable 46 percent?

Why, I have also often asked myself, have Jews throughout the 20th century achieved greatness in such wild disproportion to their tiny numbers, despite constant persecution and their loss of six million souls to the Holocaust?  Likewise, how has Israel succeeded in becoming such an economic powerhouse, especially in technology endeavors, despite near constant attacks by its Arab neighbors for the past 62 years?  Talk about succeeding in the face of adversity!

This week's Hotline offers an explanation.  David Brooks' recent op-ed in the New York Times, reprinted below, confirms the thesis that culture is dispositive.  Jews, Brooks asserts, have values that help them succeed extraordinarily in academic, scientific, business and artistic enterprises---and they have brought those values to Israel.

On the one hand, I think you'll be astounded by the facts that Brooks marshals to prove his point.  On the other hand, given what we know about the resourcefulness and values of the Jewish people, I don't think you'll be surprised at all.

Please review this piece by David Brooks. It will make you proud of Israel, and it will remind you why it's so important to support her in the face of Arab and Muslim cultural values that have proven so destructive and counterproductive to the progress of civilization.

Israel is indeed our first line of defense standing before the darkness that would turn our world into a caliphate ruled by radical Islamists.

Am Yisrael chai!  Long live the people Israel!

Best regards,

Jim Sinkinson
Director, FLAME


Have you seen the latest FLAME hasbarah message? It's titled "Israel: A Light Unto the Nations---Those who demonize Israel are either misinformed or malevolent." This piece tells the truth about the Jewish nation---that it is an exemplary free and democratic society, one that deserves to be praised and emulated. I hope you'll review it, especially since we're entering the season of hateful rallies on university campuses claiming that Israel is an "apartheid state" (of course nothing could be farther from the truth). If you agree that FLAME's outspoken brand of public relations on Israel's behalf is critical, I urge you to support us. I hope as this year comes to a close, you'll consider giving a donation now, as you're able---with $500, $250, $100, or even $18. (Remember, your donation to FLAME is tax deductible.) To donate online, just go to Now more than ever we need your support to ensure that Israel gets the support it needs---from the U.S. Congress, from President Obama, and from the American people.

The Tel Aviv Cluster
By David Brooks, January 11, 2010, The New York Times

Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.

Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.

In his book, "The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement," Steven L. Pease lists some of the explanations people have given for this record of achievement. The Jewish faith encourages a belief in progress and personal accountability. It is learning-based, not rite-based.

Most Jews gave up or were forced to give up farming in the Middle Ages; their descendants have been living off of their wits ever since. They have often migrated, with a migrant's ambition and drive. They have congregated around global crossroads and have benefited from the creative tension endemic in such places.

No single explanation can account for the record of Jewish achievement. The odd thing is that Israel has not traditionally been strongest where the Jews in the Diaspora were strongest. Instead of research and commerce, Israelis were forced to devote their energies to fighting and politics.

Milton Friedman used to joke that Israel disproved every Jewish stereotype. People used to think Jews were good cooks, good economic managers and bad soldiers; Israel proved them wrong.

But that has changed. Benjamin Netanyahu's economic reforms, the arrival of a million Russian immigrants and the stagnation of the peace process have produced a historic shift. The most resourceful Israelis are going into technology and commerce, not politics. This has had a desultory effect on the nation's public life, but an invigorating one on its economy.

Tel Aviv has become one of the world's foremost entrepreneurial hot spots. Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth, by far. It leads the world in civilian research-and-development spending per capita. It ranks second behind the U.S. in the number of companies listed on the Nasdaq. Israel, with seven million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined.

As Dan Senor and Saul Singer write in "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle," Israel now has a classic innovation cluster, a place where tech obsessives work in close proximity and feed off each other's ideas.

Because of the strength of the economy, Israel has weathered the global recession reasonably well. The government did not have to bail out its banks or set off an explosion in short-term spending. Instead, it used the crisis to solidify the economy's long-term future by investing in research and development and infrastructure, raising some consumption taxes, promising to cut other taxes in the medium to long term. Analysts at Barclays write that Israel is "the strongest recovery story" in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Israel's technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream. The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.

This shift in the Israeli identity has long-term implications. Netanyahu preaches the optimistic view: that Israel will become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, with economic benefits spilling over into the Arab world. And, in fact, there are strands of evidence to support that view in places like the West Bank and Jordan.

But it's more likely that Israel's economic leap forward will widen the gap between it and its neighbors. All the countries in the region talk about encouraging innovation. Some oil-rich states spend billions trying to build science centers. But places like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv are created by a confluence of cultural forces, not money. The surrounding nations do not have the tradition of free intellectual exchange and technical creativity.

For example, between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in the U.S. Saudis registered 171. Israelis registered 7,652.

The tech boom also creates a new vulnerability. As Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has argued, these innovators are the most mobile people on earth. To destroy Israel's economy, Iran doesn't actually have to lob a nuclear weapon into the country. It just has to foment enough instability so the entrepreneurs decide they had better move to Palo Alto, where many of them already have contacts and homes. American Jews used to keep a foothold in Israel in case things got bad here. Now Israelis keep a foothold in the U.S.

During a decade of grim foreboding, Israel has become an astonishing success story, but also a highly mobile one.


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