As Israel celebrates its 70th birthday, the global Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement has been propagating the idea of ”anti-normalization,“ advocating for complete and total isolation of Israel, rejecting any interaction between Arabs and Jews, and underscoring that Jews cannot be or have a nation-state.
At every stage of normalizing Palestinian relations with Israel, especially during the Oslo years, extremist factions opposed the very idea of talking with Israelis. This is now the core mission of the BDS movement. Moreover, at every juncture where Israel tries to highlight its global contributions and humanism, it gets slapped for hiding its true “evil nature.” One example is highlighting Israel’s enlightened treatment of gays by declaring it “pink-washing.”
Overcoming the anti-normalization is not a simple task, but it begins with demanding normalization and acceptance. This necessity is illustrated in Avi Jorisch’s latest book, Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World. Jorisch selected 15 technological innovations and their entrepreneurs from such fields as pharmaceuticals, solar power, defense, agriculture and cyber-security. Through personal stories, Jorisch is able to share compelling individuals who are the ingenuity and tenacity of Israel and Israelis.
What makes this book unique is that it is a clear departure from the author’s previous work. Jorisch, a seasoned Middle East analyst with an expertise in Hezbollah and Iran, is no stranger to the Middle East or its threats. The book was born in the summer of 2014 during “Operation Protective Edge,” when Israel was fighting Hamas in Gaza. Jorisch had a firsthand experience with Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, which intercepted the missiles while Jorisch was carrying his son to a shelter. This led him to tell the Iron Dome tale and the race to create other systems throughout the country.
He tell the story of Eli Beer from the United Hatzalah ambulance service, who created “ambucycles”—motorcycles equipped with first-responder apparatus enabling EMTs to evade traffic and arrive on the scene in the first critical moments—what Jorisch correctly calls “the Uber of Ambulances.” In another example, the author shares the Israeli-made Emergency Bandage that saved the life of Congressman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot back in 2011 in a parking a lot of supermarket in Tucson Arizona where she was to address a crowd. The uniqueness of the bandage, developed by Bernard Bar Natan, consists of a sterile pad that medics apply to the wound with a special built-in handlebar that can provide up to 30 pounds of pressure to firm the bleeding. The bandage has saved countless lives all over the world, and is a required instrument in the tool box of the Israel Defense Forces, the U.S. Armed Services and the British Army.
Israelis crave being seen as a normal people and country, and to share their experience with the world. At the same time, the reality of being a tiny country with few natural resources—though abundant human capital—has driven innovation. Highlighting normalization and innovation are functions of not wanting to be defined by the Arab-Israeli conflict, while at the same time demonstrating how they excel despite it. Israelis are burdened with the need to fight for survival as well as excellence. The Zionist dream did not end in 1948; its redefinition seven decades later depends on finding a happy medium between defeating its strategic threats and advocating its ability to be an active contributor to community of nations. Innovation is key to this process.
The book is a welcome addition to goals of appreciating the Zionist dream and the increasing the normalcy of Israel, while underscoring the abnormal conditions in which these inventions came about. It highlights Israel’s current reality. At the end of the day, Jorisch correctly states that “Israel does not have a monopoly on good ideas or proper execution. All countries would benefit from tapping into their own cultures in order to apply their own lessons to the industries and professions they have excelled in for centuries. With this said, the Jewish state’s achievements for the benefit of mankind should be celebrated and emulated by the global community.”
Internalizing this message may help combat growing anti-normalization and overcome BDS. It will certainly bring important innovations to the rest of the world.
Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.