Suspend Your Cynicism

The average Israeli thinks a lot of things about his country, which will celebrate 60 years tomorrow.

Here is a vision from three practical, well-known figures: "The tremendous challenges facing Israel do not allow it to wallow in mediocrity and to forgo excellence. An education system, productive economy, science and technology infrastructure and a defense establishment mired in mediocrity cannot ensure Israel's prosperity, and will even cast doubts on its ability to survive. Israel must adopt a strategy of renewal, excellence and quality in critical areas in order to exploit its resources and get back on a track of fast, sustainable growth, to provide for the needs of a nation still developing and fighting for its life.

"Even though a rapid rise in per capita product is an important goal, it is not enough. Quality and excellence must extend to many aspects of life, and not only to economic productivity. These attributes must reach education, health, welfare, infrastructure, the environment, respect for the law, integrity, personal security and intellectual creativity. The adoption of high standards in many varied areas of life will bring us closer to becoming an exemplary society."

Exemplary society? Surely this is an exaggeration. That some Israeli should think that Israel is close to being an exemplary society, or has a chance of becoming one in the future? The average Israeli thinks a lot of things about his country, which will celebrate 60 years tomorrow. He thinks the state robs him with too many taxes in exchange for too few services. He thinks the state is corrupt, and the fact is that even the prime minister is constantly being interrogated by the police. The average Israeli is convinced that Israel is managed very poorly, and that if he were given the opportunity, he would do a much better job. He has no doubts that his elected representatives, in the Knesset or the government, are looking out mainly for themselves and not for him, so the average Israeli feels a growing alienation from his homeland. In general, the average Israeli loves to reminisce about the good old Israel, and to complain about the Israel in which he lives today.

Still, a few dozen Israelis are signatories to the opening paragraphs above, with three very highly respected personalities topping the list: Samuel Friedrich, chairman and CEO of Shaldor Strategic Management Consulting; David Brodet, a leading advocate of reform and a former director general of the Finance Ministry; and Eli Hurvitz, chairman of Teva Pharmaceuticals. These three, who know a thing or two about management and vision, believe that the "exemplary society" concept is not foreign to Israel. To be precise, they believe that "Israel will rise to the top tier of the leading countries, economically and in quality of life. This is not an unachievable dream. The dynamism, creativity and initiative of Israel's population, working in the correct public, strategic framework, will make this vision attainable."

The vision proposed by the three is detailed in a report submitted to the prime minister, titled, "Israel 2028." The report outlines the steps Israel should take to reach a per capita product of $50,000 a year (more than double the current $23,000) by 2028. That sum would place Israel among the 15 richest countries in the world. This vision will propel Israel forward in both economic growth and the quality of the services provided here, and will lead to maximum equality. It would mean rapid, balanced economic growth encompassing most of the population sectors, including the ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis.

Sure, it's tempting to chuckle at such ideas. Exemplary society? Growth in all sectors of the economy? An open and enlightened society? What do all these have to do with Israel? After all, we are well-versed in the ills of the Israeli economy. The problem is that our cynical approach prevents us from seeing the Israel genuine potential. For example, that Israeli society's weak spots - the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors- also hold the greatest potential for change and growth. If we succeed in firing up those two sectors behind the Israeli economy, we can achieve long years of growth and overcome social gridlock.

Or, for example, that for better or for worse we are very Jewish. For worse, because we tend to complain and see only the half-empty cup. For better, because the drive to succeed, to initiate and to conquer the world is in our blood. Very few societies are as open, entrepreneurial and creative as Israeli society.

Or that our achievements so far are tremendous, and that we have already proven that we know how to create something from nothing. From 1948-1968 we managed, against all the odds, to build a state while at war, to triple our population within a few years, to absorb one million immigrants in a country without infrastructure or capital whatever, and after all that - to have two decades of phenomenal economic growth. The difference between then and now is mainly the level of solidarity in Israeli society and the strength of our belief in the justness of our goal - but these are simply a matter of choice and internal decision. Or, that in spite of everything, the Zionist pathos has not left us. After all, the average Israeli citizen cares very much about his country and its future. Perhaps that caring is not currently translated into deeds, but this could change if Israelis were offered the right challenge, and if they see fit to answer it.

"In 60 years of independence Israel has met many goals and challenges, and accomplished unimaginable achievements. The external and internal problems awaiting Israel in the future are no less complex than those we have overcome in the past. Considering the challenges now facing Israel, the coming years will be crucial to the development and the future of the state. The role of this generation is to add the highest quality materials to the building of this nation in the next 20 years," wrote the authors of "Israel 2028." Is that not a fitting challenge for Israeli society - if only the current generation would throw off its cloak of cynicism?