By Naomi Miller, Director of Missions, and JFMD Israel Representative
Many of us will look back at 2020 and see it as the year that should be scrapped from the calendar, the annus horribilis of pandemic, economic crisis, travel restrictions and isolation.
Yet, Israel supplied a lot of good news in the areas of peace, innovation, sports, aerospace and entertainment. Here’s a small taste that could help us see 2020 as an annus mirabilis.
2020 was a banner year for exciting normalization agreements with Israel’s neighbors. To date, there are agreements with seven countries. Previous agreements were few and far between. In 1977, after 29 years as nations at war, Israel and Egypt signed the first treaty, known as the Camp David Accords. In October 1994, Israel made peace with its eastern neighbor, Jordan. But this year has seen a record five agreements initiated by the U.S. and Israel. On September 15, the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement was signed on the White House lawn, initiating full recognition and normalization between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. A similar agreement with Sudan followed in October. December has seen two new agreements: one with the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, known as the Fruit of Peace Agreement and the other with Morocco.
According to Start Up Nation Central, 2020 was a record year for capital raised by Israeli companies. By early December, Israeli firms had raised $9.5 billion in capital, 20% more than the 2019 figure of $7.7 billion.
Israel was ranked #1 on Mastercard’s Index of Women Entrepreneurs in 58 world economies. The report announced that 87% of female-led businesses were impacted negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Israel was noted for its increased development of digital skills to adapt to the crisis and for offering greater access to tertiary education for women.
Israel has been starring on the front pages of sports editions. For the first time in its basketball history, two Israelis have been chosen to play for the NBA. Deni Avdija, 19, the youngest player on the Maccabi Tel Aviv premier league team, was a top-10 pick (a first time for any Israeli) and will play for the Washington Wizards. Another 19-year-old, Yam Madar, was selected by the Boston Celtics in their second round.
A number of Israeli athletes have conquered European titles. In men’s gymnastics, Artem Dolgopyat took gold for the floor routine and bronze for the vault exercises at the European Championships. Rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram took home gold in the all-around title, inspired by her Israeli teammates, who also won the gold medal just two days earlier in the group all-around category. Peter Paltchik also won gold at the European Judo Championships. Israelis are keen to hear Hatikva, the national anthem, played at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. To date, Israel has taken home nine Olympic medals, including one gold, won by Gal Friedman for sailing in 2004 at Athens.
Israelis in space
Israel’s second astronaut will be heading into outer space. Eytan Stibbe is a decorated colonel fighter pilot with over four decades of experience in the Israel Air Force. At 62, he will be one of the oldest astronauts on record. He is a successful businessman and founder of a capital fund developing and financing initiatives in the developing world. He is underwriting his own participation in the program and is expected to join the SpaceX rocket for a mission to the International Space Station in late 2021. He was a personal friend of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who was killed with his six crew members on the Columbia Space Shuttle that crashed in 2003.
Israel is now leading the world in the number of people vaccinated, per capita. Since the beginning of the vaccination campaign, known as “Give a Shoulder”, almost half a million Israelis have had the first of the two vaccination shots and as of January 10, the second round has started. The four Israeli public HMO’s have been most efficient and organized, and it is expected that public health system HMOs will continue to vaccinate up to 100,000 Israelis daily with almost all Israelis over the age of 16 being vaccinated by the Passover holiday at the end of March 2021.
Another record that Israel is leading in, (unfortunately?), is the number of elections in a two-year period. The democratic process in Israel calls for elections for the Prime Minister and Knesset every four years, unless the Knesset is dissolved or the leading coalition no longer holds a 61-seat majority of the 120 seats. Elections had been set for November 2019 but were brought forward to March 2019 after the government was dissolved. Six months later, Israelis were back at the polls in September 2019 after the incumbent Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, failed to form a majority coalition. A political deadlock was created again, with both Netanyahu and opposition leader, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, unable to muster a governing majority, so the third election in less than a year was held on March 2, 2020. The Knesset has struggled to deal with a consistent Covid pandemic policy as well as pass a state budget which demands another election, the fourth in two years, set for March 23, 2021.
Ending on a note about a very impressive Israeli — Israel’s “Shero” and global wonder woman, Gal Gadot, appears in her new film, Wonder Woman 1984, released on HBO Max on Christmas Day. Ironically, as there is no HBO Max available in Israel, Israelis will have to wait to see it when the pandemic ends and the movie theaters reopen.