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A Good Investment For Israel And Humanity

I myself drive a Prius, about which I have written a few years back. It is a fuel efficient car, and a handsome and comfortable one, too. Aside from the hybrids which are proliferating in the market (Lexus, Ford, Chevy, Honda etc.), there is, course, the electric car which has been slow on the uptake. Just Google "electric car," and see for yourself.

But, according to today's Financial Times (in a story by Fiona Harvey, John Reed and Tobias Buck) and also today's New York Times (in a dispatch from Steve Erlanger who's soon to leave Jerusalem for Paris), Israel, "tiny and bereft of oil, has decided to embrace the electric car." The headline: "Oil-Free Israel Is Set to Embrace Broad Project to Promote the Use of Electric Cars." The subhead in the Times reads, "A nation as a laboratory to test a clean vehicle." The FT emphasizes Israel's need to cut oil imports with a "private-sector initiative for a nationwide electric car network."

Frankly, this is the kind of stuff that Israel does best: science on behalf of mankind. It is not the largest of the laboratories for human advancement through science. But it is one of the most innovative. It's also something that Israeli politicians seem to grasp easily. Not only with water or with crops, but in information technologies, nano-technologies and bio-tech. And here is a science in heavy industry.

The FT reports that "the privately funded plan to build 500,000 recharging points and battery-swap stations for electric cars in the next 18 months has the backing of the government and president." This means the practical Ehud Olmert and Shimon Peres, who is better at dreaming about the future than organizing the present, as we know from his one-disaster-after-another peace initiatives.

This is a bold venture. Imagine how it would have fared under state socialism during Israel's first decades. It has a big investor in an Israeli zillionaire, Idan Ofer, with whom I actually lost a decent amount of money six years ago. It has an Israeli-American software entrepreneur, Shai Agassi, whose well-named company, Project Better Place, will provide the batteries at 124 miles per charge. Jim Wolfensohn is an investor. His reasons for making the investment: "Israel is a perfect test tube. The beauty of this is that you have a real place where you can get real human reactions. In Israel they can control the externalities and give it a chance to flourish or fail. It needs to be test, and Agassi is to be commended for testing it and the Israelis government for trying it."

It will be a better investment than the one in which Wolfensohn and some doesn't-matter-if-we-lose wealthy American Jews bought the Gaza greenhouses for the Palestinians in 2005.