Upon receiving notification of winning the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2005, in conjunction with American Thomas C. Schelling, Robert J. Aumann stated that the prize was awarded for two things: ". . . firstly, for the school of games theory we've developed in Israel. We've turned Israel into the number one force in this profession. Secondly, this prize goes to Israeli science and Hebrew University." Professor Aumann's emotional statement acknowledges not only the growing maturity and international recognition of Israel's scientific work but the country's integration into the top tier of advanced industrial nations. The prize this year in economics is the second Nobel in economics for Israel in less than five years; Daniel Kahneman co-won the award in 2002 with American Vernon Smith for insights into human judgement and decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. This year's economics prize also follows the 2004 award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Israeli biochemists Avran Ciechanover and Avram Hershko, along with the American Irwin Rose, for deciphering the complex and fundamental process that governs protein degradation in the cell, a process that is crucial to understanding and curing whole classes of different diseases. These are the accolades of a rich and dynamic scientific culture.
With a founding population of less than 650,000, Israel was faced at its birth in 1948 with tremendous challenges. The country had little in the way of infrastructure, industrial plant, natural resources or any source of vitally needed fresh water, and its entire land area amounted to a territory smaller than the size of Wales. The prospect and reality of war with much larger neighboring states, and internal and external terrorism, led international experts to the view that Israel had little in the way of economic potential or viability; the inchoate state was widely considered to be a long-term economic basket case and a charge on the international community. Israel's development in the face of these dismal starting circumstances, into one of the world's foremost high technology economies, is truly astonishing. The extent of this development has not been widely appreciated or easy for the world to see in the constant barrage of political coverage, and the media focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The achievement here deserves some significant mention.
What Israel has done economically is perhaps the most difficult task that a modern economy is faced with: developing innovative high technology companies that produce high-added value products. It is not easy even for the most advanced industrial economies in the world to develop high technology enterprises. Israel has done this in force. Israel has over three thousand indigenous R&D-driven high technology firms, accounting for almost half of Israel's 26 billion dollars' worth of high tech exports. The number of start-up companies is second only to that of the United States and "resembles Silicon Valley", in Bill Gates's words, "more than any other place in the world." Israel, with the exception of Canada, has more companies listed on the US stock exchanges than any other non-American country. The country has the third largest registrations of patents per capita in the world, after United States and Japan. Israel's technology and processes are at the forefront of innovation and advancement and are embedded in practically the entire range of modern products. The growth of Israel's scientific and technological prowess has been further developed by the establishment in Israel of international R&D centers by world- leading technology firms and multinationals. These companies include such firms as Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, Motorola, Mitsubishi, Deutsche Telekom, and Ericsson, among many others. These R&D centers are large and sophisticated. Motorola's plant in Israel is the company's largest research center in the world, and Intel operates two of its major fabrication plants there (a third 4-billion-dollar plant utilizing its most advanced sub-micron technology was just recently announced). Every computer in the world has Israeli hardware or software incorporated into its systems. The Centrino chip, as a single example, was developed "from top to bottom" at Intel's research facility in Petach Tikva.
The large format book, Israel in the World: Changing lives through Innovation, authored by Helen Davis and Douglas Davis, is a superlatively written, beautifully printed and photographed paean to Israel's extraordinary technological creativity. An introduction by the international media entrepreneur, Rupert Murdoch, and jacket comments by Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, are indicative of just how well this book has been constructed and considered. The book is divided into five sections: Medicine, Science & Technology, Agriculture, Society and Outreach. Each section draws attention to the pioneers in a particular field and Israel's path-breaking research and products. Developments in Medicine and agriculture are particularly significant, in that they are at the root of human welfare and economic existence.
In the section on medicine, we see that Israel is involved in pushing the entire frontier of medical technology and knowledge. Over fifty venture capital funds have invested in Israel's medical technologies. The book profiles a spectrum of companies from start-up firms, such as Given Imaging, which has developed a highly advanced, sensor-laden miniature disposable video camera the size of a vitamin pill (once swallowed, it unobtrusively courses through the body while mapping and imaging the internal structures), to such emerging multi-national giants as Teva Pharmaceutical, the world's largest generic drug firm, and the developer of the Multiple Sclerosis drug Copaxone. The book also contains carefully drawn biographical sketches of individuals such as physician-researchers Judith Richter and Kobi Richter, inventors of the modern cardiology stent (recently awarded 650 million dollars in a patent suit with Boston Scientific), or the young inventors of instant messaging (ICQ), who were purchased for 500 million dollars by America On-line. These firms are not only distinguishing Israel world wide and adding tremendous wealth to her economy-but are building bridges to many people in the Middle East and the larger region. The "Heart Knows No Borders" movement has created, for instance, a network between Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority for testing cardiac devices invented in Israel.
In agriculture, Israel's achievements are no less striking. Emerging largely out of an ideological perspective that attached moral significance to agricultural work, Israel had nearly achieved agricultural self-sufficiency within a few years of the country's founding. Israel not only feeds its population, it exports an additional "3 billion dollars worth of agricultural products and technologies each year." Making optimal use of very scarce resources has allowed Israel to become a world leader in agricultural methods and agricultural biotechnology. Israel's firms are the leading producers of computerized systems for irrigation and fertilization. Netafim, the pioneer of the concept of drip irrigation, has essentially "revolutionized drip irrigation in every corner of the world." Established in 1965, Netafim has more than "30 billion emitters in operation world-wide, twelve manufacturing plants in eight countries, twenty-eight subsidiaries, and a distribution presence in 100 countries." Start-up companies are developing plant tissue cultures, biological insecticides, fertilization and pest control as well as disease-resistant seeds. Agricultural productivity is vitally important to the entire world's population; developments in Israel are already helping to support and feed hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Israel in the World provides no better picture of Israel, its extraordinary inventiveness and its will to survive. The book is a validation of the Zionist enterprise and its importance not only to the Jewish people but to the world as a whole. Facing new challenges, Zionism is being re-envisioned; the final outcome of this process, will greatly depend upon the creative energies of Israel's scientists and artists. It is here that original and compassionate political structures will find the common ground and organizing energy for completing Israel's integration into the nations of the Middle East and the rest of the world. I would recommend this book to anybody with an interest in innovation, technology, or Israel and her role in the world. Adrian Stein
(Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada