Time for Israeli Ingenuity


Published June 02, 2010, issue of June 11, 2010.
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In their best-selling book “Start-Up Nation,” Dan Senor and Saul Singer detail how Israel’s “economic miracle” has been fueled by an informal, creative and entrepreneurial business culture backed by government policies focused on innovation. How is it, then, that a nation with the economic brainpower to lead the world in per-capita start-ups cannot apply that same clever intellect to defending itself and charting its future?

Israel doesn’t deserve all the condemnation it is receiving for the May 31 flotilla debacle. Although a full and legitimate investigation needs to take place, it seems so far that Israel had a legal right to board the ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza, and that Israeli commandos fell into a horrifying ambush by so-called peace activists. The cry of self-defense here seems warranted.

But these technical justifications cannot obscure the deeper impression that the Netanyahu government continues to dangerously misread the challenges it faces. It used to be wryly noted that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Sadly, that now seems true of the current Israeli leadership — and just at the moment when it’s necessary to take bold steps, to try to solve problems rather than suppress them, to break the cycle of failure, to do what entrepreneurs do: innovate.

As long as there is an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, Israel alone will be blamed for the churning misery of Gaza’s citizens. It isn’t fair. It allows the terrorists of Hamas to escape responsibility and propagandists to exploit the issue. But even if the Israeli government is accurate in its claims that the three-year-long restrictions weakened Hamas internally, they harm Israel externally. (And that was before the Hamas’s latest PR coup.) It’s time to devise another way to prevent arms smuggling and secure Israel’s borders without depriving 1.5 million people of food, medical care, construction materials and commerce.

As long as there is no Palestinian state, Israel alone will be blamed for every ill in the Arab world. It isn’t fair. This exclusive focus on Israel absolves numerous governments of human rights abuses far worse than exist in the West Bank or Gaza, and it obscures the oppression of women and minorities elsewhere that ought to earn the condemnation of the United Nations, which is instead too busy heaping scorn upon Israel.

But this reality will only worsen if not addressed because, when all else is stripped away, the Palestinians deserve a homeland and the right to self-determination as much as the Jews did in 1948.

Despite the current, depressing mess, Israel can reclaim this hopeless narrative with boldness and creativity. It’s not a matter of more effective hasbara — when it comes to manipulating world opinion, the Palestinians (especially Hamas) seem far more competent at that right now. “To defeat an idea, you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one,” Amos Oz wrote in the June 2 New York Times. That’s what entrepreneurs do.

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