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Israel: Robotics and Start-Ups

In 1949, a magazine called The Contemporary Jewish Record, now more or less Commentary, published an explosive essay called “Anti-Semitic Stereotypes in Zionism.” It was not at all an attack on Zionism. Instead, it proposed that the Jewish national revival would actually reverse certain character traits that had lodged in the people of the book and were keeping them from being active in their own history. The Jewish thinker who made this argument--a Zionist, in fact--was Yehezkel Kaufman, a specialist in many scholarly fields. 

Here’s a very dressed-down version of his case:

1. Jews were incapable of laboring on the land. (Well, we showed them in the kibbutzim and moshavim how Jewish labor transformed itself and, in fact, the very land it worked.)

2. Jews were not fighters. (And we certainly showed them a thing or two. And maybe even three.)

Oh, my. How pathetic were the Jews before Zionism! 

The argument is carried on by Kaufman with other tropes. But these two are the central ones. The model disturbs anti-Semites and those who disguise their anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism, as if those who despise Israel would still despise it if it weren’t the Jewish state. Really? 

David Brooks makes a very smart argument, “The Tel Aviv Cluster,” in Tuesday’s New York Times, pointing out that Jewish secular intellectual accomplishment (which I believe correlates in an intricate manner with Zionism) is still a magnificent oddity of the world. Nobel Prizes? You got it. Ivy League student bodies (and faculties), Pulitzer Prize winners, Academy Award winners, America’s most generous philanthropists, etc., etc. I think that, if you tried to count the major innovators of new technology, you’d also find a much lopsided tilting to Jews. Not just Sergey Brin. But Sergey Brin, indeed. 

And not just in America. Brooks points to a book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer titled Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, which provides enormous evidence that the “lopsided tilting” to the Jews is more than lopsided to Israel. Here is Brooks: 

Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth, by far. It leads the world in civilian research-and-development spending per capita. It ranks second behind the U.S. in the number of companies listed on the NASDAQ. Israel, with seven million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined. 

Then there is an almost coterminous article by Charles Levinson in the Wall Street Journal, also on Tuesday: “Israeli Robots Remake Battlefield.” He quotes the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ technology branch as saying, “We’re trying to trying to get unmanned vehicles everywhere on the battlefield for each platoon in the field.” 

The U.S. is already a beneficiary of such technology. 

But the technology responds to one basic demographic fact. The Jewish population of Israel (along with the small number of Druze and the even smaller numbers of Bedouins and Circassians) provides the country’s fighting men and women, and there are roughly 5.7 million Israeli Jews--not many, that is, and fewer than the six million who perished in the great catastrophe. Every lost human life is precious, and I more than suspect that Arab lives are more easily given up in war as martyrs. 

Anyway, robotics is a demographic necessity.