Friday, 6 August 2010

Israeli grapes and Singapore’s economic nationalism

I recently purchased some grapes from my local supermarket. As the grapes were of Israeli origin, I got to thinking about the conflict between nationalism and economic liberalism.
In the Gulf Arab states where the economic boycott of Israeli goods remains strong, I would never have found Israeli grapes. A cynic might say, "Not true. The same grapes would have been described as being of Jordanian origin." Yes, it's rumoured that a large quantity of fruits in the Arab world are Israeli but listed as Jordanian to appease local sensibilities.

The underlying question is the extent to which a 'principled stand' should affect quality of life. Should I have given up on the grapes just because they were Israeli? I could have easily picked up some other variety of fruit.
It is a complicated question with no definitive answer. From time to time, I try and force fruit upon myself for health reasons and I do enjoy grapes. I was tired of eating bananas. Hence, I decided to go ahead and support the Israeli economy. (Yes, I can ease my conscience by the notion that the bulk of farm labour in Israel is provided by poor Arabs.)
In principle, I will not sacrifice my quality of life for purely ideological reasons. If there is an acceptable substitute then fine. Otherwise, if necessary, there is nothing wrong with 'dancing with the devil.'
Pragmatism and common sense trump ideology.
Admittedly, I open myself up to accusations of hypocrisy by even raising the subject of not purchasing Israeli produce. After all, the Singapore-Israel security relationship is no secret. Singapore's military conscription system is partially modelled on the Israeli framework – although unlike in Israel females are exempt from service in Singapore.
A 'Singapore – Israel' internet search hints at the nature of the bilateral relationship by placing in focus the presence of various Israeli defense companies operating in the republic. Then there is the Singapore Israel Industrial R and D Foundation, sponsored by Singapore's Economic Development Board and Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist (yes, even science can be monolithic and state controlled!), "to promote, facilitate and support joint industrial R&D projects, between companies from Israel and Singapore, which would lead to successful commercialization."

Begin, Carter and Sadat at the signing of the Camp David peace agreement in 1978
In the final analysis, there is no contradiction between nationalism and economic prosperity. A state's obligations are to improve the quality of life for its people. Learning from the 'best in class' service providers, even if that be the Israeli defense establishment, is no bad thing.
Science, like art, recognizes no borders and attempting to impose artificial boundaries on cultural and scientific exchanges is a disservice to humanity.

*Perhaps Pakistan has something to learn from all of Israel's 'hostile' Arab neighbours who recognize Israel. When Arab nations can enter into peace agreements with Israel and maintain embassies in Tel Aviv then why not Pakistan? That's a subject for another day.

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