The story of Israel’s rise to the top once sounded like an impossible madman’s dream to every Jew on the planet, especially just over half a century ago.
When Israel was ranked 18th out of 188 countries and territories in the world on the United Nations Human Development Index a few weeks ago, it didn’t make nearly big enough of a splash. Since 2013, Israel has climbed from number 19 on its way to the coveted top 10 First World democracies (the very high human development group).
According to the 2015 Human Development Report, titled “Work for Human Development,” the Human Development Index is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.
A long and healthy life is measured by life expectancy. Knowledge level is measured by mean years of education among the adult population. Standard of living is measured by gross national income per capita (expressed in constant 2011 international dollars converted using purchasing power parity rates).
The Human Development Report put Israel’s HDI value for 2014 at 0.894. This is just below the average of 0.896 for countries in the very high human development group (the top 10 countries in the Human Development Index, such as Denmark and Switzerland, which were ranked third and fourth), but it is above the average of 0.880 for countries in the OECD.
According to the report, between 1980 and 2014, Israel’s HDI value increased from 0.750 to 0.894, an increase of 19.2% or an average annual increase of about 0.52%. The figures make more sense if viewed in the different categories: Between 1980 and 2014, Israel’s life expectancy at birth increased by 8.3 years (from 74.1 years to 82.4 years), mean years of schooling increased from 9.8 years to 12.5 years and expected years of schooling increased from 12.6 years to 16 years. Israel’s GNI per capita increased by about 111.6% between 1980 and 2014 (from $14,498 to $30,676).
There are several areas where Israel outdoes both the very high human development group as well as the OECD. The Human Development Report lists Israel as having the highest labor force participation rate (63.4% versus 60.3% in the very high human development group and 59.7% in the OECD). Israel also has a lower total unemployment rate (6.9% versus 8.3% and 8.2%). It has the lowest long-term total unemployment rate (0.8% versus 3% and 2.8%) and the lowest youth unemployment rate (10.5% vs. 18% and 16.5%).
Funnily enough, and entirely unsurprisingly (considering how much Israelis talk), Israel also has a higher number of mobile phone subscribers per 100 people vs. the very high human development group and the OECD — 121 vs. 119.8 and 110.4.
Behind the dry numbers is a story of almost unfathomable success that many Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora all too often forget, as they complain about the standard of living here in Israel. The truth is that building a modern and prosperous country takes time and Israel’s development has been nothing less than miraculous in the 67 years since it was re-established as the modern State of Israel. We compare extremely well to other First World democracies, especially considering that the founding fathers and mothers of modern Israel had absolutely nothing and had to pull themselves up from complete devastation and near annihilation a mere 70 years ago — no more than a short breath in the context of world history.
How ironic that the United Nations is the author of this report. Being one of Israel’s worst detractors, it still must acknowledge and publicize the facts indicating Israel’s great success.
We are currently facing difficult times here in Israel. Certain events at times spark disunity and contention, eroding what should be a united front against those that wish us only harm. Jews everywhere — among them many Israelis — love to criticize Israel and point out every possible flaw. Well, here is a suggestion: If the urge to look for the negative grips you, stop and take a deep breath. Remember how far Israel has come — how the story of Israel’s rise to the top of the world once sounded like an impossible madman’s dream to every Jew on the planet, never sounding more far-fetched than when the Nazi extermination camps were liberated a little over half a century ago.
Take another deep breath and try something even more refreshing: Feel proud! You are part of this endeavor, living at this particular time in history and you can make a personal contribution to Israel’s future success.
Now, if that is not a reason to celebrate, I don’t know what is.
By: Judith Bergman
(Originally published in Israel Hayom and The Algemeiner)