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June 23, 2013

Column: Celebrities should visit, not boycott, Israel

Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple,” has generated headlines by urging singer Alicia Keys to avoid “soul danger” and cancel her July 4 concert in Tel Aviv. Keys and other celebrities should ignore Walker and visit Israel. They may be amazed at what they discover.

I saw Israel for the first time this month, thanks to the America-Israel Friendship League, as did several other journalists on our fact-finding trip. Keys and other artists likely would find Israel as surprising as we did.

Israel’s omnipresence in the media makes it sound like a superpower. But Israel is impressively compact. At just 7,992 square miles, it is slightly larger than Clark County, Nevada (Greater Las Vegas) but tinier than New Hampshire.

Israel is not just small. It’s svelte. At its thinnest point, near Netanya — just north of Tel Aviv — Israel spans just nine miles. The land separating Israel’s Mediterranean beaches from its border with the Palestinian Authority covers roughly the same distance as does Manhattan between Battery Park and the Apollo Theater on 125th Street, or Los Angeles from the Santa Monica Pier to the La Brea Tar Pits. Conquer those nine miles, and you chop Israel in two. Given this existential danger, the late foreign minister Abba Eban called this and the rest of Israel’s narrow waistline its “Auschwitz boundaries.”

Nevertheless, Israel is the little country that could. Within a desert that is hostile in every sense, Israel has become a prosperous nation with a per-capita income of $29,512, its Central Bureau of Statistics reports. In 2012, Israel’s GDP expanded by 2.7 percent, while America’s grew just 2.2. Israel’s unemployment rate is 6.9 percent, vs. 7.6 in the U.S.

This start-up nation has pioneered plenty, including drip irrigation, the flash drive, and the PillCam, which lets doctors remotely examine a patient’s digestive track after he has swallowed a pill-sized camera.

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