Not a Better Place

The failure of the electric car company reminds us that scientific developments won't be enough for us to ensure our existence here.

One of the more interesting reasons behind the stinging failure of Better Place can be found in the pages of Haaretz two days ago, in a photo of celebrities who bought the electric cars. In the caption of the picture in question it says that supermodel Bar Rafaeli intended to get on the electric vehicle bandwagon, but when she understood that handling the car was complex and cumbersome, she reconsidered and bought a Land Rover.

Rafaeli's rapid switch from the pro-environment green vehicle trend to the all-terrain vehicle trend that harms the environment is some sort of tragi-comic testimony of a characteristic of Israeliness in particular, and of the complexity of trends and marketing campaigns in general. But the story of Better Place goes beyond the fields of economics and crowd psychology.

Better Place's success was supposed to yield a mighty Zionist achievement. At a time when most public attention is focused on how many kilometers the electric car can go, the ultimate goal was to help Israel and then the rest of the world reduce their dependence on oil, particularly Arab-produced oil, and thus influence the global alignment of power, no less.

Even the unusual name chosen for the company, Better Place, expresses the messianic Zionist ambition to create a better place under the sun. There was no one more fitting from the perspective of appearance, initiative and self-confidence than the company's founder and first CEO, Shai Agassi, to embody the classic figure of the Israeli sabra. Agassi was another link in the chain of Zionists who believed that the path to the longed-for redemption lay concealed within the "Jewish mind" and Israeli ingenuity.

Here is very partial list of creations and original inventions that accompanied Zionist history: The alternative method of producing acetone substitute discovered by (later first president of Israel ) Chaim Weizmann for the British army in World War I. The discovery helped the United Kingdom arm itself with explosives and contributed to the deepening acquaintance between Winston Churchill and other senior British officials with Weizmann and the Zionist idea. There is also the tower-and-stockade method of settlement, which aided the building of Jewish communities in the Land of Israel before the establishment of the state by preventing their dismantling (Ottoman law forbade the removal of buildings with roofs ). Then there is the Arrow anti-ballistic missile, created to respond to the threat of long-range missile attacks. Not to mention the Stuxnet computer virus that, according to foreign sources, was planted in 2009 in the computers of Iran's nuclear program. Of course, there is also the Iron Dome battery for intercepting short-range missile and rocket fire, and more.

Aside from all these inventions, in their own way, aiding the defense of the Jewish presence in the heart of the Middle East, they all share a belief that technology and imaginative inventions will be enough to ensure a better future for us, without being dependent on the remaining human components in the Middle Eastern conflict.

When we separate the story of Better Place from the topics of technology and marketability for a moment and place it into the context of another revolutionary initiative in Zionist history, the failure of the electric vehicle is likely to transmit another fundamental moral to us: More than 64 years after the establishment of the state, it appears that Zionism has exhausted its ability to continue to rely on technological wisecracks, however bright they might be.

Like the gravel-throwing vehicle that was sent out to eradicate Palestinian national ambitions during the first intifada, independent scientific developments and enhancements won't be enough for us to ensure our existence here. The longed-for journey to a better place cannot be disconnected from the basic sabotage of cooperation between the peoples who live here that could be achieved through human and moral negotiations.