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Eureka: A fireside chat on Israeli contemporary affairs
by Joseph Gatt
2018-04-16 06:35:36
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Unless you were on another planet, you've probably heard of Israel. The images you have probably seen were those of on duty IDF soldiers facing Palestinian rioters, those of orthodox Jewish men praying on the Western Wall or walking in the streets of Israel and probably those of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in the presence of Barack Obama or Donald Trump.

But go to any conference and the Israeli will probably be discussing universal topics because talking about Israel would demand too much contextualizing, and it would be complicated to deliver a talk on Israel without having to undo some of the preconceived notions. So in today's fireside chat, I'll focus on  Israel's relations with the Jewish diaspora, Israel as the startup nation, anti-terrorism in Israel, relations with Iran, the future of the West Bank and Gaza, relations with the Arab world and the domestic Israel economy.

A Jewish state? Relations with the diaspora

Language is complicated and has many ambiguities. A Jewish state is in fact a contraction of “a state for the Jews” but saying that would too long in newspaper headlines. Among diaspora Jews and other non-Jews, there is the frequent misunderstanding that “the Jewish state” is the religious, religiously conservative and observant state. So the assumption is everyone in Israel is Jewish, observant, conservative and everything's Kosher. Everything's done according to Jewish law, because hey, it's the Jewish state.

sral1_400Israel is in fact a secular state tolerant of all faiths and all degrees of observance in faith. Religion and the state are not quite separated, and it would take days to explain in what ways religion and state are linked, but to simplify, Israel is the state for the Jews and has many religious minorities. Israel regards descendence rather than degree of observance and faith when it comes to Judaism, so if your parents are Jewish, doesn't matter what your degree of observance is, you are considered Jewish.

Now Judaism like all religions is experiencing transformations of all sorts, social transformations that is. You have Orthodox Jews who have their own social transformations, but by Orthodox most people mean those who follow Jewish law strictly. Then you have conservative Jews who take a lot of the law seriously but don't observe some laws that are deemed outdated, then you have secular Jews who don't follow most laws, then you have Atheist Jews then you have Reform Jews. But then for Jews, unlike for Muslims perhaps, no one tells you what it is that you're supposed to be doing with your faith, your degree of practice and observance is your own business. So you do have people moving around the religion, going from secular to orthodox then back to conservative and so forth. The point I'm trying to make is that Israel is the state of the Jews, Jews is in plural, and that the notion of Jewish state is misleading and leads a lot of people to think that Israel is the observant Jewish state.

The reason I'm dedicating this first section to relations with the diaspora is that Israel is after all the state for the Jews and that Jews are a decreasing bunch. There were 18 million Jews at the beginning of the century, 14 million today, and ever decreasing. Second of all Jews tend to live in countries where the government does not persecute them, and those who were persecuted by governments have already moved to Israel. So when you have 8 million Jews who live in countries where the government does not persecute them, who are increasingly secular, who survive and thrive in their home countries, and in the meantime Israeli Jews who are increasingly wanting to relocate to some European or North American country, you have a problem.

Newspapers have timidly started discussing Israeli's future as the state of the Jews. One proponent had that bringing converted Jews from elsewhere would ensure the viability of Israel as a Jewish state, but to me that's a strange idea for so many reasons. As I've discussed in this part, Judaism is an individual way of life rather than a collective way of life. I've read stories of a group in Madagascar who decided to adopt the religion and another group in Uganda, which is fine by all means because in both cases it was their personal choice. But my idea is don't try to encourage that at a massive scale. Some say that 60 million Jews should be converted in similar fashion. As a Jew and an amateur historian, I would find that terribly confusing if Israel became a state with a majority of Jews with no historical connection to Judaism. I say this because protecting the ancestoral land tends to be a reflex.

But I still haven't adressed the issue of preserving Judaism in an age where “dating a perfect 10, or I'll settle for a 9” is the norm, and in an age where “Lebanese is the new half-Asian” is the norm. Another factor that I'll dedicate another article to is when it comes to having children, Europeans and North Americans are not very optimistic. Career stability has something and career demands has something to do with it. So career demands coupled with the increasingly physical and material and less spiritual dimension of dating probably means the number of Jews around the world is still going to decline. But one thing I'm sure of is mass conversions won't solve the problem.

Technology and startups

Identity is important, but so much for identity. A lot of countries are going to Israel for technology, but it in health, in cyber defense and cyber security, in agriculture, or for industrial uses. The main problem with technology is that it's not recession proof, and unlike industrial production, if you have losses for a month, it can take several months to make up for the losses. So the idea to expand in quality and quantity, that is the enlarge the base of clients and to constantly innovate and come up with new products. That is also because technology can be cut-throat, if a competitor comes up with a new product, you're basically out.

How do you preserve the startup eco-system? Constantly innovating and working in harmony is going to be key. If different startups take competition levels one level further and decide to cut communication with other startups, then the startup scene can collapse altogether.


Anti-terrorism has a lot to do with sources of funding and ideology. Another pillar is intelligence and information gathering. Unfortunately terrorism constantly mutates and takes up new forms, and it's up to the intelligence services to constantly look for mutations, adaptations and new forms when it comes to terrorism.

One form of mutation terrorism has experienced in technological mutation. New technologies mean you constantly have to think one step ahead of what terrorists are going to come up with.


The only thing I can add about Iran is that it's a highly emotional state and that you can not understand the nature of the government without understanding the emotional nature of its people. Sometimes you get overwhelmed with emotions and are incapable of comprehending the facts. Imagine constantly being in that state. I've tried explaining facts to Koreans but they start bubbling with anger after 5 minutes if it's bad news. Same thing with the Iranians. You give them the facts and they start bubbling with anger after 5 minutes. The idea, and it's going to be hard, would be to find those Iranians who don't bubble with anger within 5 seconds of receiving bad news, or who are not in a state of elation within 5 seconds of receiving good news.

The future of Gaza and the West Bank

One thing I often hear is that Israel should make peace with the Palestinians. As if the Palestinians were extending their hand in peace and the Israelis were rejecting it. The problem is the global perception that Palestine is like to Apartheid-era South Africa where the Jews have all the rights and the Palestinians have no rights and live segregated in their own country. Gaza and Area B of the West Bank are under Palestinian autonomous control where the Palestinians enjoy the full rights that their government will allow them. Except that said government does not allow a lot of rights and liberties to its own people, and has not been very clear on what its views on Israel are. So perhaps getting a little bit more clarity from the Palestinians on their intentions would help.

Relations with the Arab world

Technology, track 1 and track 2 diplomacy have helped soothe relations with the Arab world. But more work needs to be done on the track 2 diplomacy side, because among the average Arab citizen, Israel is not regarded very highly and is still in discussions for all kinds of conspiracy theories.

Internal economy

Dry land and the absence of mines means that a lot of Israeli products actually have to be imported, and its geographic position means it does not get the best deals out of importing agricultural and mining products. Technology plays a big role in agricultural production which can lead to a decent industrial production, which can make life in Israel a little cheaper. Those who visit Israel tend to think that life's expensive probably because those Jews like to make money, but no, it's really the importing factor that makes for a high cost of living.

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