The Most Exciting, Screwed-up Country in the World

Israel is one of the West's most difficult countries to live in, but it is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic, productive and exciting.

It's finally happened. We have joined the OECD, the organization of developed countries, which automatically makes us a developed country. If yesterday morning, we thought we were laggards, yesterday afternoon we received our kashrut certificate. We're developed. At least, we're developed enough to count ourselves among the world's 30 leading countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, January 20, 2010

There's nothing new here. Israel has been hovering around 30th in the world for quite a few years. This official recognition of our 30th place merely reinforces the reality of what we are: the lion's tail, wending its way along the floor of the developed world.

It's not bad to be 30th, but it's not good enough, either. Israel is ultimately a success story, especially considering its rough starting point, but it's still a very problematic success story. Israel's relative disadvantages are huge - wars, a heterogeneous population and a significantly lower standard of living than that in comparable countries. And in order to get past them and be recognized as an attractive country, Israel needs to keep improving on its relative advantages.

You have to admit, Israel is a pretty screwed-up country: external wars, internal wars, three different countries (secular, religious, Arab ) shoved into one. One-fourth of all children do not study the core curriculum and have no plans to join the labor force. We have unstable governments with no managerial abilities, ministers who worry more about their political survival than their ministries' affairs.

And this is only a small portion of our problems, most of which are unique to Israel. In fact, Israel deserves global patents for some of these problems, such as public funding for anti-Zionist, anti-democratic school systems that do not prepare their students to work.

Israel could also get a global patent for its exports - of brains. A quarter of Israel's researchers are currently abroad, and some are at the world's leading universities. Foreign universities have entire departments whose official language is Hebrew. These are our best and brightest - educated here, but off teaching foreigners' children.

Despite that, Israel's success is now a fact. The brain drain is evidence of a problem, but it is also evidence of Israeli universities' enormous long-term success. By several measures of academic success, such as scientific publications per capita, we're at the top. We also lead in terms of the percentage of people with higher education, especially when it comes to the free professions. The number of lawyers and doctors in Israel is any Jewish mother's dream.

Above all, the dynamic nature of Israeli high-tech in the face of growing global competition is a model for international emulation. In fact, Israel's business dynamism is clearly extraordinary. Israelis conduct research, initiate, set up companies, compete and sell more than their peers in many other countries.

Israel is one of the West's most difficult countries to live in, but it is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic, productive and exciting. Israeli vitality, for good and for bad, is extraordinary, and in large part compensates for the political problems, the social rifts and the leadership shortcomings. It's a fact: Even the world thinks so.

Now, the time has come to see whether we also think so - and will thus ensure that Israel's successes continue outweighing its shortcomings.