Opinion The Israel that can help the United States


The election season is becoming an all out brawl between the candidates; each one is trying to paint a picture of the better America he will create in less than four years. Something is wrong with that philosophy, but it is hard to really put your finger on it after being indoctrinated with the short-term fix for so long. Our leaders, instead of looking at Israel as a strategic ally in a troubled region, or the little democracy that needs protecting, may be able to learn a real lesson from Israel about how to establish and run a country that is living for today while truly building for future generations.

The debate over the benefit or usefulness of green initiative continues as we spend more money on fuel every week. In reality, little has been done here to push forward a viable alternative energy policy for the everyday consumer. Sure there have been those publicly discussed initiatives where government funded green companies have subsequently failed, but in practical terms, not much is happening to encourage the use of alternative energy. Why?

Even at current levels, fuel in the U.S.A is less expensive than in other countries. A major factor in price gaps between fuel prices in different countries is government policy. The United States and many European nations heavily tax gasoline, sometimes with those taxes making up as much as 75 percent of the cost. Filling up the same 39-gallon tank of an SUV in Venezuela will run about $3.50; yes, that is not per gallon, but the entire bill. In Norway, it would be closer to $400. Here in the States you may pay about $160.

In some South American and Middle East nations, oil is produced by a government-owned company, and local gasoline prices are kept low as a benefit to the nation’s citizens. Norway, on the other hand, which has a good amount of oil reserves of its own, offers no subsidies at all and uses the money it raises on fuel to subsidize social spending like free college education and national infrastructure.

A Bloomberg ranking shows that Israel has the third highest priced gas at nearly $9.50 per gallon, making it more critical of an issue. So what do we see in a country that has only 500 electric cars on its roads? It already has a robust network of electric refill and battery swap stations that can service 50 times the number of vehicles in service.

The roads of New York and America are filled with taxis and many fleet cars, such as police and official government vehicles that are increasingly hybrid vehicles. It has become the thing to do, as many individual consumers now drive Toyota’s hybrids, Ford’s, GM’s, Nissan’s and the like – almost as if it were a symbol of evolution and class. But when we see cars such as the Chevy Volt undersell, or the Nissan Leaf not impressing, and we know that often necessity is the mother of invention, or in this case, action; we have to look at whether we here are yet at the stage where alternative energy is a critical need.

The Volt is overpriced and the cost does not yet seem to meet the expected savings, and the lack of availability or convenience of charging stations makes some fear breaking down with no quick options. With fuel, remember, the worst-case scenario may be a long walk with a gas can. In contrast, with electric vehicles, it may be a costly tow and an overnight charge with a standard outlet if a quick charge is not close by. Similarly, the cost of solar panels for individual homes in the U.S. is so high, that the breakeven cost when compared to regional electricity prices comes only after ten or more years.

In Israel, a startup called Better Place Inc. opened two new battery replacement stations, one on Israel’s Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway 1 and one on Kvish Shesh (Road 6). Both Israel and the company view the opening of these stations as important steps toward the completion of the north-to-south network of battery replacement stations.

It has already invested in 40 battery replacement stations, and the simple automatic replacement takes about five minutes. Currently, there are only 500 electric cars on Israel’s roads – just 500. Yet, the company has confirmed that it has signed agreements with more than 60 other companies to buy electric cars and move their own business model while affecting the use of gas for transportation.

Better Place Israel CEO Moshe Kaplinsky believes that “It’s important for us to have a presence on the country’s main roads, which will strengthen drivers’ coverage range of electric cars…, with the vision of a smooth and continuous ride.”

That is forward thinking that we are not getting in the U.S.

When watching the debates and understanding the election process, Americans know that the economy is the leading factor for most of the electorate today. Yet, priorities are telling. At the most recent debate, President Obama and Mitt Romney argued over gas prices and policies that drive them. They both debated and disputed the wisdom of investing in green initiatives, but there is a looming deficit, uncontrolled spending and even foreign policy and the wars on terror to navigate. That makes ideas such as real solutions for green initiatives less popular.

American politicians today focus most of their actions and policies on short-term programs that will get them through the next election. There are just too many bigger issues to tackle.

In Israel, however, when it only has the matter of perpetual terror looming from its bordered neighbors; economic disparity that has about half the country on public support and not sharing in the military service burden which causes a sizable civil rift; the threat of devastation from Iran’s leaders; and the chaotic divisions within Israel’s government that has lead to the call for early elections before the governing coalition collapses, to name just a few of the issues, Israeli businesses and what is working within the government manage to focus attentions on long term planning that will bring costs down, create new jobs, and make it energy independent sooner than most.

Israel faces existential threats daily while dealing with a growing civil divide among its citizens and it builds as if it will endure forever. What can American leaders learn from little Israel?

Juda Engelmayer is an executive with the NY PR agency, 5W Public Relations