George Gilder’s Israel Test: Who Passes? Who Fails?

In his remarkably philo-semitic book, ‘The Israel Test,’ George Gilder poses a short series of moral questions—addressed to both individuals and to nations—the answers to which determine on which side the respondent falls in the ongoing struggle for the political, economic and cultural soul of the world’s people. Mr. Gilder’s dramatic thesis is stated forcefully and clearly in the opening paragraphs of his book, which I quote in part:

The central issue in international politics… is the tiny state of Israel. The prime issue is not a global war of civilizations between the West and Islam…The real issue is between the rule of law and the rule of leveler egalitarianism, between creative excellence and covetous ‘fairness,’ between admiration of achievement versus envy and resentment of it.

Israel defines a line of demarcation. On one side…are those who see capitalism as a zero-sum game in which success comes at the expense of the poor…On the other side are those who see the genius and good fortune of some as a source of wealth and opportunity for all.

The test can be summarized by a few questions: What is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or in other accomplishment? Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you seethe at it? Do you admire and celebrate exceptional achievement, or do you impugn it and seek to tear it down? Caroline Glick…sums it up: ‘Some people admire success; some people envy it. The enviers hate Israel.’

Today tiny Israel… stands behind only the United States in technological contributions. In per-capita innovation, Israel dwarfs all nations.

As if the anti-Semites of the world needed another reason to hate the Jews. Gilder has not only highlighted two of the most historic causes of Jew hatred, but he has wrapped them in a brilliantly colored package, which, on the one hand, explains much of the vilification of Israel that occurs today and, on the other, will surely attract more hatred in their direction. To explain, let me quickly recall a (probably incomplete) list of seven main reasons for anti-Semitism. The first four of the following are couched in terms an anti-Semite might use.

1. The arrogance of the ‘chosen people.’ That this tiny, in some ways wretched band of people would declare themselves the chosen people of God, entrusted with His mission of redeeming humanity, and then flaunt their arrogance by holding themselves above all mankind in their perverted pursuit of that goal is insulting, contemptible and incendiary. Small wonder that their haughtiness has earned them the enmity of most of humanity.

2. Ethical monotheism. As inventors of a demanding morality (embodied in the Ten Commandments) and by their continued promulgation of their God’s moral law, they render uncomfortable those, and they are many, who would prefer not to be bound by the standards of the Jewish God’s law.

3. Refusal to accept Christ. They spurned the true Messiah when he appeared on Earth and their continued existence is an affront to the Christian religion, which superseded the original mandate the Jews received from God.

4. Infidels. They rejected Mohammed and they epitomize the infidels of the world who stand in the way of a world-wide caliphate and the global reign of Islam.

5. Generally obnoxious. I am not engaging in self-hatred here, yet I think that it is not incorrect to assert that no other ethnic group has any leg up on the Jews in the category of ‘behaving obnoxiously.’

6. Money grubbers. With their seemingly natural affinity for commerce, the Jews of the world in their roles as bankers, investors, entrepreneurs, accountants and businessmen have proven repeatedly that their ability to accumulate wealth—sometimes deemed at the expense of others—far exceeds that of any other ethnic group, which thereby engenders the envy and resentment of their Gentile neighbors.

7. Unnatural success. Envy and resentment of the Jews is not restricted to their role in commerce. In the arts, sciences, technology, politics, law and even war (at times), the achievements of this tiny tribe is so far above the median that it causes wonder and amazement. The ensuing reaction of many is more than envy and resentment. It encompasses a belief that the Jews must be lying, cheating and stealing from the Gentiles—behavior that merits punishment and retribution.

It is the last two reasons that Gilder has highlighted and conjoined. How? Well, in the last two decades Israel has performed a sharp about-face in regard to its fundamental economic philosophy. Its founders a century ago were hard core socialists and the Labor Party that unilaterally ruled the nation (from pre-State days until 30 years ago) was representative of that mentality. From Labor’s fall in 1977, it took more than 15 years for the nation to overcome its economic blindness. But beginning in the last decade of the 20th century, Israel finally unleashed the entrepreneurial power of its highly educated and creative citizenry. The Zionists became capitalists.

The long delay in the arrival of that transformation is ironic, for as Gilder points out, ‘The great irony of Israel is that for much of its short history it has failed the Israel test. It has been a reactionary force, upholding the same philosophy of victimization and Socialist redistribution that has been a leading enemy and obstacle for Jewish accomplishment throughout the ages. As a Jewish country, Israel should have arisen rapidly after the war as a center of Jewish achievement. Instead, its leftist assumptions actually inclined it toward the Soviet model…Until the 1990s, Jews could succeed far more readily in the United States than in Israel. The Israel test gauges the freedom and equality of opportunity in a country by the success of Jews there. By this Israel test, the United States was far freer and more favorable to creativity and excellence, and thus to Jewish achievement, than the state of Israel itself.’

But the Jews of Israel have more than made up for the lost time, as the closing paragraph of the opening quote from Gilder makes clear. (The actual statistics are on p. 109 in his book.) To reiterate, in terms of technological innovation, Israel ranks ahead of all the nations of Western Europe, ahead of all the Asian tigers, behind only the US. And that is only in absolute terms; per capita, Israel’s entrepreneurial productivity dwarfs that of any other country. ‘Wonder and amazement!’

Thus it is clear how Gilder has folded together items 6 and 7. The Jews are ‘guilty’ not only of an abnormal ability to handle money and of achievements way beyond the norm, but the two come together in an explosion of capitalistic entrepreneurship in the small desert nation. Swell! The Jewish nation is now a model of free market capitalism. One of the prime reasons that too many of the world’s people loathe the United States—and for which it is indeed lustily despised—is its grand success as the greatest capitalistic nation in the history of the world. Israel now joins the US as a second exemplar of democratic capitalism. As I said, the world did not have enough reasons to hate Israel. Now it has a ‘new one.’ But note: the first four reasons for anti-Semitism that I cited are special to the Jewish people. (Some would say, ‘So is the fifth.’) On the other hand, the amalgam of 6 and 7 that Gilder has identified is now intimately tied to the United States.

According to Gilder, all those who hate Israel—and the US, for that matter—because of their economic success are flunking the Israel test. Incapable of celebrating the exceptional achievements of a small nation, they seethe at Israel’s accomplishments. Rather than emulating Israel’s methods, they impugn Israel’s motives and seek to blame the poverty of Israel’s Arab neighbors on the Jewish nation’s economic prowess. They hurl the epithet ‘Nazi’ at Israel, even if they are aware of the obscenity that such an accusation represents.

But make no mistake. The hatred of Israel extends to an equally virulent hatred of America. In the words of Iran’s Mullahs, the USA is the ‘Great Satan’ and Israel is the ‘Little Satan’; both must be eradicated. Well the Mullahs are certainly one of the Israel-haters referred to above. Who are the others? That is, let us examine who has passed the Israel test and who has failed it. First, I’ll discuss those who receive a passing grade—a pathetically short list, actually. It includes the United States, a few other nations in the Western Hemisphere, a small group of European countries, and a very limited number of Asian and South Pacific states. I have purposefully not identified the specific countries that pass the Israel test (beside the US) for the following reason. It is a highly subjective exercise and I venture that the list’s contents would depend heavily on who is compiling it. For example, Canada is on the list, but is Mexico? Poland makes the cut; sadly Britain probably does not; what about Germany? Regardless of who compiles the list, it is guaranteed to be short.

Fifty years ago the list was much longer. However, the Israel test was also much easier to pass then. Israel was a socialist country, the world was restrained by the shame of the recent Holocaust, and the tiny Jewish nation was still cast as the underdog in its battle to survive in the Middle East. But the Six-Day War in 1967 removed the underdog status; the check that the memory of the Holocaust exerts has weakened substantially; and Israel has cashed in socialism for capitalism. The list of those who pass the test has shrunk dramatically. Former friends like France vanished from the list long ago. Other Western European and South American nations have followed suit in recent years.

Now who has failed the test? Above all, the Muslim world. With the exception of Turkey—and it seems to be reassessing its stand lately—the unremitting hostility toward Israel from the Muslim world is nearly universal, not to mention fierce and grotesque. The next group of failures includes all the left-leaning socialist and semi-socialist countries of the world. Outside the Soviet bloc, that group was relatively small and declining during and after the Reagan era. But in recent times, it has expanded dramatically and all those who have fallen into the leftist mode are now chalking up failing grades on the Israel test. Then there are the third and fourth world basket cases throughout Africa and Asia. The fact that they extort foreign aid from the US and Israel does not prevent them from falling in line behind the previous two groups in their condemnations of Israel. That doesn’t leave many countries left on the map. In summary, aside from the US and a few other friendly countries, the vast majority of the world’s nations earn failing grades on the Israel test.

Here is a really sad postscript to the previous observations. Even within the countries that pass the test, there are substantial segments of the population that fail individually (or in groups). This is even true of the United States. For heaven’s sake, the President of the United States gets a resounding failing mark on the test. And finally, painful as it is to admit, one must acknowledge that a not insignificant part of the Israeli public—largely left over from the Halcyon days of Labor rule—flunks the test.

Let me be close by stating more forcefully what is implicit in much of the above and very explicit in Gilder’s thesis. Namely, Israel is the canary in the coal mine of Western Civilization. In some ways at the moment, the prognosis for the canary is better than that for the mine. That is an audacious assertion, not easily or quickly justified. Therefore, for lack of space, I must refer the reader to my article, ‘Broken Deals: Violating the Commandments, Abrogating the Constitution’ (, which fleshes out the claim. Here, in its furtherance, I will also note the following. Benjamin Netanyahu, who as Prime Minister of Israel in the 90s and Finance Minister in the early part of this century, gets the lion’s share of the credit for altering Israel’s economic path, has set an astounding new challenge for his nation. One of the gravest crises confronting the US, Israel and what’s left of Western Civilization is the overwhelming dependence on fossil fuels. While Barack Obama leads the US down the blind alley of climate change through ‘cap and trade,’ Netanyahu has challenged the scientists, technicians and entrepreneurs of his country to really solve the problem. This seems almost laughable. How can tiny Israel meet this monumental challenge? Whether it can or not, the fact that it will try is a testament to the role that Israel plays in the world today. And of course that effort will only increase the size of the lightning rod that Israel has become for the flunkees of the Israel test.

If Western Europe continues to decay and if the US succumbs to the socialists who are currently running our country, then it is legitimate to ask: What comes next? Who will be the world’s top dog? China? Russia? India? An Islamic caliphate? The answer to that question is only partly clear. Russia and the Muslim world flunk the Israel test hands down. If Gilder is right, neither will be top dog of anything. What about China or India? In some sense both are still sitting for the test. Their—and our—fates await the outcome.

This article appeared originally in The American Thinker ( on Jan 3, 2010.