A 15-year plan for Israel


At its 60th anniversary, Israel needs a new vision that not only will guide its priorities and inform its actions, but also will be relevant to the lives of all Israelis.

This is why the ISRAEL 15 Vision, a Reut Institute plan that calls for Israel to become one of the 15 most developed nations within 15 years, is so compelling. It requires improving the quality of life of all citizens.

Quality of life is a very elusive issue. Its definition changes by geography. The quality of life of a religious and spiritual person is different from that of a secular businessperson.

Notwithstanding, quality of life is also visible and tangible. For example, anyone can tell that the average quality of life in countries like Canada or Australia is higher than in Greece or Spain. Furthermore, although income per capita is an important factor determining life, other public goods such as health, education, employment and social cohesion play a critical role as well.

Israel’s growth of recent years can be intoxicating. However, we often tend to forget that the world economy has experienced significant growth as well in recent years. Hence, impressive rates of growth notwithstanding, Israel didn’t succeed in leapfrogging — catching up with the leading nations of the world.

In contrast, during the first 20 years of the state, Israel’s economy bounced upwards. Israel doubled its well-being relative to the United States, starting with an average income of 30 percent of the U.S. average and reaching 60 percent by the early 1970s. Since then, however, Israel has not been able to bridge the gaps with the richer countries while countries such as Ireland, Singapore and South Korea have made leaps ahead.

The importance of closing the gaps with the richest nations stems from the mobility of people, technology and investment. As these highly mobile resources “choose” which country to go to, nations compete for them. Success in this fierce battle is essential for the future of any country, but is critical for the survival of Israel.

Israel suffers from the largest gap between the level of talent of its population and the quality of life offered its residents. Israel is ranked 28th in the world in quality of life, yet our population is among the most educated and technologically savvy in the world. Indeed, Israel is a leading exporter of talent, with one of the highest levels of brain drain among developed nations.

Becoming one of the 15 leading nations — roughly at the level of Holland, Singapore or New Zealand — requires leapfrogging our socioeconomic performance and growing at an annual pace of 7 percent to 8 percent for at least 10 years. This is a national challenge that will require widespread mobilization of the key sectors of society.

The phenomenon of leapfrogging is different than growth. While the world has established a recipe for stability and growth in the form of a set of accepted principles known as the Washington Consensus, which primarily calls for fiscal and monetary discipline and privatization, there is no such recipe for leapfrogging. In other words, each country charts its own path.

However, the common denominator among the countries that have leaped ahead has been their agenda. They all established an ambitious vision, identified growth engines and exhausted them, benchmarked their performance to other countries, improved the capacity of their government to make decisions and implement them, enhanced collaboration among key sectors of society and invested in human capital.

In addition, nations that leaped ahead contained their unique challenge and tapped into their individual potential. For example, Singapore understood that it was located at a junction between East and West and therefore developed the world’s leading airport, seaport and airline, while Ireland tapped the benefits of its inclusion into the European Union.

We also know that leapfrog happens as a consequence of a combination between top-down leadership by the government and bottom-up mobilization of the key sectors of society. Hence, on the one hand, reforming Israeli governance is key since it is significantly underperforming compared to our business sector.

At the same time, we have to find ways to harness mayors and local governments, businesspeople, philanthropists, nonprofits and world Jewry to the ISRAEL 15 Vision and create the space that allows them to make contributions, as well.

Finally, growth and development have to turn into a national obsession. We have had such passions in the past: greening the desert, redeeming the land or immigration absorption. The challenge for the ISRAEL 15 Vision is to become a household phrase and a framework that inspires for action.

The ISRAEL 15 Vision might be ambitious but it is attainable. Israel already is a world leader in key areas such as research and development, human capital or technology. We have outperformed expectations in the past. There is no reason we cannot do it again.

Gidi Grinstein is the founder and president of the Reut Institute. This article is based on a speech he gave at the 2008 Herzliya Conference.

Bazel Draws Sabra Artists to Encino


Hanging out with a group of Israeli artists at a hot new cafe in Encino may not be the same as sitting on Dizengoff in Tel Aviv, but the conversation is as close as it gets for Los Angeles. Tempo is still great for Middle Eastern food and music, but now Cafe Bazel appears to be the spot for late-night carousing.

Named for a Tel Aviv street full of cafes like this, Bazel’s menu has Theodore Herzl on the front cover because it was in the Swiss town of Basel that he conceived the Zionist movement. The Bazel on Ventura, which has been open for six months, has shakshuka, beet salad, rugelach, tea with mint leaves, waitresses in tight black T-shirts and other women in tight black leather who arrive and sit right in front of the join and make you watch them eat. Long black limos are parked out front, facing off against a Lamborghini and a Mercedes on the other side of the boulevard.

Tonight we’re here with Roni Cohen, an Israeli artist who is telling friends about her new show at the Bank Leumi.

Cohen, who moved to Los Angeles in 1997, was a foreign press photographer during the 1973 war in the Golan and Sinai. An accident near the end of the war wrecked her leg and her camera and she went to study with Ran Schori at Bezalel Arts. She also studied in London and New York and began working in a variety of textures, showing at the Shafrai and Mabat Galleries in Israel.

In 1991, her house on Rehov Bialik in Ramat Gan was rocketed by a Scud missile (she wasn’t home, having escaped to Beersheva). With a damaged life and broken heart, she painted through waves of despair and hope. Working in red and black, signifying drums and explosions of not only war but of new energy, she began expressing what she calls "emotional and industrial landscapes."

Her show features abstract forms on large compressed felt rugs, acrylic and collage, and serigraphs and etchings of Jerusalem and Safed.

"I know the soul is here," she says pointing to her head. "I have a new life now, new friendships, new ideas — new everything."

Cohen teaches early childhood education at Stephen S. Wise Temple, and has a son in high school in Agoura Hills. She has had 11 solo shows in Israel and California and is a resident artist at the 825 Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard.

Back at Bazel, it’s after midnight and Israelis are still pouring in for dinner. The sidewalk tables are packed and the men’s bathroom has a widescreen television showing MTV. Deejays Shai and Ariel play Morcheeba and Zero 7 hipster beats behind the coffee bar. There is no alcohol here yet, but fruit shakes are popular. You can get Israel toast and Schnitzel Panko until 3 a.m.

"Tempo is forever," sculptor Uriel Arad says. But now this is his place.

Every time an artist comes to Los Angeles, like Israeli stand-up Naor Zion, who recently played the Wilshire Ebell Theater, "the place to be after the show is over is Cafe Bazel, for real," Bazel manager Nicki Zvik tells me. "This place will be jammed like it’s no tomorrow."

Cohen is drinking cappuccino with friends Eytan Rogenstein and Arad. Other friends of hers come to Encino from the newer Jewish communities of West Hills and Calabasas. One says the atmosphere at Cafe Bazel reminds him of being on Dizengoff because, "You see everybody."

But his friend disagrees.

"It’s the only place on this entire street," he argues, "so it doesn’t remind me [of] anything."

"Everybody and his opinion," says the first artist.

"Plus it’s too wide, Ventura," continues the second.

Cohen’s friend, the sculptor, also "works in construction, like everybody else."

Looking at the long black sedan parked near his table, he jokes, "I came in that limo." Then adds, "I’m driving it."

Directors, painters, football players, even actor David Hasselhoff comes to Bazel, according to Zvik. He says Hasselhoff claimed the warm chocolate cake the finest dessert he ever had in his life.

However, a shooting in the parking lot a few weeks ago slowed business for a bit.

"Ihiye b’seder" ("It will be okay"), Cohen tells Zvik at the coffee bar.

"It’s already b’seder," the manager assures her.

Roni Cohen’s art appears from Oct. 14 through Nov. 21 at Bank Leumi, 16530 Ventura Blvd., Encino with a reception Oct. 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Cafe Bazel is at 17620 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 728-0846.


Hank Rosenfeld is a folk journalist.

A Man Without Fear


When Marvel Comics founding father Stan Lee createdDaredevil in 1964, he tagged his blind superhero: “Man Without Fear.” Thenickname also applies to Avi Arad, head of Marvel Studios, Marvel Enterprises’film/television division. Israeli-born Arad rescued Marvel from Chapter 11 inthe ’90s, turning it into a major film provider with “Spider-Man” and now”Daredevil.”

“Daredevil,” starring Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock, thelawyer-turned-vigilante with heightened senses, symbolizes Marvel’s catch-up torival D.C. Comics, which for decades had the Hollywood edge with billion-dollargrossing franchises “Superman” and “Batman.”

“Prior [Marvel] management was really afraid of the moviebusiness,” Arad said. “They were run by financial people who had no interest inentertainment.”

That changed when Arad put Marvel on the Hollywood map.Marvel’s first smash in 1998 came with only a minor character, Blade. “X-Men”followed in 2000, and “Spider-Man,” which took in more than $403.7 milliondomestically, became the fifth-highest grossing film of all time.

Raised near Tel Aviv, Arad served in the Israeli army beforemoving to America, where a job driving a Nabisco truck connected him with a toycompany.

“I got a job in research and development and found out I hada knack for inventing toys,” said Arad, 55. “So I went on my own.”

“If you had a successful toy,” said Arad — the creator of”My Pretty Ballerina” — “you turned it into a cartoon. It was a naturaltransition for me to expand into animation.”

Since coming aboard as Marvel Studios’ chief in 1993, Aradplayed a key role in saving Marvel Enterprises from bankruptcy and untangled anearly two-decade web of courtroom battles over “Spider-Man’s” film rights, asdetailed in Dan Raviv’s 2002 book “Comic Wars.” Over that time, movie specialeffects have come a long way.

“I don’t know if we could’ve made the ‘Spider-Man’ that wehave today even five years ago,” Arad said. 

After “Daredevil,” 2003 will bring “X-Men 2,” “Hulk” and theshooting of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” sequel — with a Michael Chabon screenplay — for 2004. “Ghost Rider” (starring Nicolas Cage) and “Fantastic Four” will follow.

“He really cares about these characters,” Stan Lee saidabout Arad. “He gets the best writers and the best directors.”

So, will “Daredevil” attract a mass audience on a”Spider-Man” level while placating some diehard fans who feel that the movie’scasting choices and costumes stray too far from the comic?

As Arad told a reporter, “Ben Affleck looks good in even apaper bag.”

“Daredevil” opens in theaters Feb. 14.

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