Israel - High-tech Power or Mediocrity?

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From time to time the question arises as we look at our reflection on our television screens: “Who are we, after all?” Are we an advanced high-tech power, as it seems from the success, for example, of the startup Waze and the scenes at the 90th birthday bash for King Shimon I of Zion?

Or might we just be another run-down, foolish third-world country, as it seems from routine and reality? For example, the Mount Carmel fire, the “surprising” hole in the budget, the imaginary quiet on the security front (oops, broken again) and the farce of the investigation into anti-Arab vandalism and the Barnoar killings.

Of course, we’d like to believe that we really are an advanced high-tech power of unparalleled distinction, and that all our problems are nothing more than slight failures outside the rule. You know, the rule, even Bill Clinton said so, that we’re a superior human-scientific power.

But is it so? Are the scientific-technological successes of a few of us the rule that reflects our fine intellect and power? Or do our frequent, repeated mistakes reveal our foolishness and pitiful failures? We can always resolve the question by saying that it’s something in between, that we’re both of these – like Pakistan, which is a bit backward but has nuclear bombs. So be careful.

But if we carefully scrutinize the few big successes and the many repeated failures, we clearly see that the successes are achieved by people outside the establishment and the government, which in many cases makes their work harder. Our failures, on the other hand, are serial, systemic, institutional and governmental. Again and again Israel’s institutional planning and management systems fail to perform, whether firefighting and prevention, fighting and uncovering crimes, managing the economy and security, or achieving peace. It’s failure after failure, investigative committee after failure.

And what’s the lesson? There is none, because the government thinks its monumental failures are colossal successes. The missing NIS 40 million in the budget is actually the fruit of government planning so we won’t become another Greece or Spain. The police in their great skill, resources and brains – not some snitch – are responsible for solving the killings at the Barnoar gay center.

And of course, when without meaning to, somebody does something right, as in the Barnoar case, he immediately calls a press conference. Rejoicing, he says: “You see? We told you! We’re great.”

That reminds me of a story by the Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano in his book “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” about what happened at a game during the 1958 World Cup. It was the beginning of the second half and Brazilian defender Nilton Santos abandoned his position and crossed the halfway line, dummied several players and made his way to the goal. Brazil coach Vincente Feola nervously followed him down the touchline shouting “go back! Go back!”

Santos, cool as usual, continued running toward the opponents’ penalty area. The overweight Feola grabbed his head in his hands in despair. But Santos didn’t pass the ball to the forwards. He made it the whole way alone and finished with an outstanding goal. Then the happy Feola said out loud so everyone could hear: “Did you see that? Didn’t I tell you? We worked on that in training!”

Bill Clinton. He says we're a superior human-scientific power. Credit: Reuters