Israel, home to 53% of world Jewry, is a happy place. Yet you wouldn’t know it if you believed the headlines about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government or saw the latest anti-Israel resolution at the United Nations and the current wave of Jew-hatred propagated by American celebrities.
After all, between the International Court of Justice, Whoopi Goldberg, Kyrie Irving and Kanye West, antisemitism appears to be off to a good start in 2023.
Yet in the antisemitic worst of times, there are aspects of Israel that represent the best of times. The Startup Nation continues to innovate and flourish. The Abraham Accords continue to deliver positive security and global trade rewards. Israeli companies continue to make a massive impact on the quest to alleviate humanitarian disasters around the world.
Moreover, in the face of a tsunami of traditional and social media hatred, Israel is one of the happiest places in the world. It’s true. Last March, the Gallup Organization released its 2022 World Happiness Report, and the survey showed Israel improving its ranking from number 12 to number 9.
The survey, which is based on GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy and freedom to make life choices, assessed 146 nations. The countries ahead of Israel were Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden and Norway. Israel was ranked ahead of New Zealand, Austria, Ireland, Australia, Germany, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Countries that signed normalization agreements with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords were also ranked in the top 25: Bahrain was at 21 and the United Arab Emirates at 24.
In contrast, the country that daily threatens Israel’s existence, Iran, was ranked 110. Iraq was 107 and Lebanon 145. The “Palestinian Territories,” by the way, were at 122.
In other words, no matter how much cacophony is heard in the Knesset, Israeli society is strikingly happy. Most people familiar with Israel understand that cacophony is a byproduct of a free, diverse society. After all, the Knesset has always been the home to shouting, arm waving and theatrical chaos.
Israel recently exercised its voice by electing Netanyahu in an election universally acknowledged to have been free and fair. Yet the media around the world, including in Israel, will continue to push the narrative of corruption, even as they seldom examine corruption in Palestinian society.
They will call Jewish settlements illegal, even when they’re not—unless you believe the sovereign state of Israel is illegal—but never challenge the illegality of Palestinian settlements or the usefulness of the so-called “refugee camps.”
The media will ratchet up the cries of “apartheid” and “occupation” to full volume. They will endlessly refer to Judea and Samaria as the “occupied West Bank,” even though they didn’t consider it “occupied” while it was occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967.
The world needs a strong dose of context. At a time when the world faces increasing antisemitism, Jews nonetheless understand that they have faced much worse over more than 3,500 years of history. What we are experiencing, of course, doesn’t make us happy. We would be happier if the media didn’t deny or ignore 3,500 years of history. We would be happier if Gen X Jewry and public and civil servants took 3,500 years of Jewish history into consideration. We would be happier without false narratives and revisionism.
But I’m afraid that, unless people become aware of the treacherous past of antisemitism and seek to understand Israel’s importance to Judaism, some forms of the scourge are here to stay.
The least happy countries on the Gallup list are fatigued by Middle Eastern wars. Ironically, they have a good—and happy—model of what could be the future in the form of Israel.
It’s not surprising that relatively few people in the world pay much attention to the Happiness Report or even know about it. Anyone, including Jews, who promote the BDS movement on college campuses or wishes to splinter and split Israel by appeasing the very unhappy Iran may want to learn more about the Jewish homeland and leave their bad karma at home.
Charles Kaufman is the past president of B’nai B’rith International and serves on the boards of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Keren Hayesod. His opinions are his own.