Israel is a Land of Opportunity, But Not for Everyone

Israeli success stories are certainly not limited to the sons of the rich.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on April 26, 2011.)

Slowly, and without anyone noticing it – except perhaps some analysts at the Bank of Israel – Israel has in recent years become a land of opportunity.

There are opportunities for young people to succeed in life. In the academic world, in medicine, in research, in the military, in business. Not unlike the United States, the quintessential land of opportunity, you can become a millionaire in Israel at a young age, even if you started out with nothing. Beyond the individual success stories that every Israeli has encountered, the constant growth over the years – in the Gross Domestic Product and in the per capita Gross Domestic Product – bears this out.

The opportunities are here. Israeli success stories are certainly not limited to the sons of the rich. There is no glass ceiling for either men or women. The surging Israeli economy and the world’s increasing march to globalization continuously create opportunities in Israel for men and women from all walks of life with talent, skills, ambition, motivation and entrepreneurial talents.

The skills are mostly acquired in the country’s schools and universities; motivation and the art of perseverance are acquired by many during their service in the Israel Defense Forces.

The opportunities that Israel nowadays offers to its young people are not limited to those that are born and bred here. Just look at the many success stories of the immigrants who arrived from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Where else would they have had the opportunities that they have enjoyed in Israel? Seeing these examples, one can feel confident that the immigrants from Ethiopia will in due time, as well, take their place among the many success stories that characterize Israel today.

The tendency of many Israelis to berate and criticize almost everything going on here tends to cloud our vision of what is happening, and it sometimes takes foreign observers to remind us of Israel’s astounding success. This story is known far and wide, as is demonstrated by the many thousands of African people who are drawn to Israel as if by magnet.

A disturbing sign of Israel’s economic success is the growing gap between rich and poor, a phenomenon well known in economies with rapid growth, especially those where the growth is based largely on technological progress.

Economic benefits are garnered first and foremost by those with technical and scientific skills, engaged in enterprises that compete in the international market place, and who therefore command employment benefits that are internationally competitive – by both them and the periphery of lawyers, accountants and bankers who feed off their activities.

Those without these skills might be expected to benefit from the rising tide of economic growth. But actually, many of them are left behind, as imported foreign workers who are prepared to work at a much lower pay scale push down the level of pay of unskilled Israeli workers, or else drive them into unemployment. And so the gap grows.

As has been pointed out many times, two sectors of Israel’s citizens have yet to benefit from the opportunities that the Israeli economy offers – the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs.

The ultra-Orthodox community is attempting to deny its children the education that would enable them to enter an advanced high technology economy. The readiness of some to enlist in the IDF in recent years, and the technical education that some of them acquire during their term of service, is the first ray of hope that, in time, the ultra-Orthodox community will also begin to contribute to the Israeli economy and exploit the opportunities that it offers.

Israel’s Arab youth lag in educational achievements behind those of Jewish youth but will, no doubt, catch up in the years to come. However, as long as they do not serve in the IDF, many of the economic opportunities in Israel will be closed to them, since much of the Israeli economy is tied to the defense sector in one way or another.

Thus the achievement of equality of opportunities – the ultimate test of equality for Israel’s Arab citizens – will depend in no small measure on prior service in the IDF. There lies the connection between the equality of obligations and the equality of opportunities.

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