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As far as Israel's image is concerned, the nation's sovereign credit rating is a lonely point of light. Yet even Israel's credit rating is imperiled, thanks to the heavy budget deficit anticipated this year and next, and in a host of criteria Israel is falling further behind the west.

For all the nation's aspiration to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Israel finds itself well behind a number of third-world countries in many important areas. Even when it comes to the ease of doing business, a World Bank study placed Israel 30th out of 181 countries, after Austria and before Azerbaijan. As for corruption, Transparency International (which looks at rot in the public sector and political echelon) said Israel sank to 30th out of 180 nations in 2008. And in high-tech, in which Israel takes such pride, the World Economic Forum says our willingness to use information technology is deteriorating by the year.

Fasten your seat belts and start to pray

Take aviation safety. Israel is ranked about the same as Ghana and Ethiopia, as far as the Federal Aviation Authority of the U.S. is concerned. In late 2008 the FAA downgraded Israel's safety rating from 1 to 2 (out of only two levels), following safety deficiencies and supervisory issues at Israel's airports that hadn't been amended by then.

Beforehand Israel had a 1 rating together with China and western Europe. The significance of the downgrade is that Israeli companies flying to the United States are subject to more stringent supervision, and the airlines have more difficulty adding lines. El Al has even threatened to sue the state for the damage the downgrade has caused it.

Exercise: Calculate our drop in status

In 2007, TIMS tests (Teaching Integrated Mathematics and Science) ranked Israeli high-school kids 24th out of 49 countries in mathematics, a drop of five places from 2003. (Taiwan came first, followed by South Korea and Singapore, by the way. Qatar was 49th.) Nor did the Israeli kids excel in science, falling from 23rd position to 25th, after Bulgaria but before Bahrain. Another international test of sciences, carried out in 2006 by the OECD, ranked Israel's students 39th out of 58 countries.

You want green? Buy dollars

When the Environmental Protection Ministry's budget is less than 1% of the national budget, no wonder Israel gets an F. An Environmental Performance index compiled by Yale and Columbia ranked Israel 49th out of 149 countries, down from 45th in 2006, right after Bosnia & Herzegovina and Mexico. Criteria include quality of water, emission reduction, accumulation of contaminants and nature preservation. We are better than Sri Lanka and South Korea.

Want equality? Try Uzbekistan

Women who want equal treatment in business, politics or education can only envy the situation in countries such as Macedonia and Uzbekistan, which ranked higher than Israel in gender equality. The World Economic Forum looked at health, education, politics and business opportunity in 130 countries. It ranked Israel 56th (Norway was first, followed by Finland and Sweden). That's a huge drop from the 36th position Israel held the last time the WEF looked.

Great place to see, pity about the missiles

The World Economic Forum index of tourism ranked Israel 36th in 2008, down one notch from 2007. The source of three great world religions isn't even the foremost tourism destination in the region. The human resources and infrastructure are fine, cleanliness and hygiene are excellent, but oh, the security situation: In the section on "fear of terrorism," Israel ranks 73 out of 129 nations. Israel is considered pricey, too.

Free press, like in Kuwait and Nigeria

Israel's press is not free, according to democracy advocate Freedom House. It downgraded Israel from Free in 2008 to Partly Free in 2009. We share that distinction with the likes of Hong Kong, India, Nigeria and Kuwait. The reason for Israel's downgrade is mainly the army's policy in the coverage of Operation Cast Lead, but Freedom House says the problem is broader, also touching on concentration of ownership of media outlets and self-censoring by the press.