It was not the visit of a chief of state but of the chief executive officer of Microsoft. But there were so many international plenipotentiaries here for the big bullshit birthday bash last week that Steve Ballmer's visit here yesterday (reported in the Jerusalem Post today) was a relief because it focused on what Israel has made of itself as a center of the technological revolution of today and tomorrow.
I know that the mainstream press in the United States marked the 60th anniversary of the independence of Israel by riveting on what the society has not accomplished with its own Arabs and the Arabs in the neighboring territories. But my readers understand that I believe the real basis for peace is the acceptance, however grudging, of the Jewish state in their midst. (Israel has now embarked on a hazardous journey for detente with Syria, perhaps on the model of the relationship with Egypt which no one would recognize as especially friendly. You'll know more about what I think as the process, mediated by Turkey, some of whose territory Damascus also covets, unfolds.)
But back to Ballmer: In remarking that Microsoft was almost as much an Israeli company as it is an American one he was paying tribute to the entire hi-tech (and bio-tech and nano-tech) sector that fuels the entire society, and he was paying tribute to the society itself. It was also a vote of confidence in Israel as present and future Silicon Valley. "I know very few places," said Ballmer, "around the world that offer such a variety of startup opportunities, and we intend to continue to invest in Israel."
Al Gore was also here this week for longer, among other reasons to lecture and to participate in a conference on technology and the environment. He, too, understands the Zionist purpose of creating a scientifically sound society.
Do not be mesmerized by the wealth of many Arab societies, and here I write only for myself. First of all, these riches are not much shared either within these societies and certainly not across borders. And I somehow doubt that Arab culture will anytime soon be infused with the ethos of curiosity and intellectual daring that is commonplace in the the U.S., in parts of Europe and, as the most recent welcome guests have observed, certainly in Israel.