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By: Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay.
(Exclusively for al-Zaytouna Centre).

In 1863, the first model of ranking of technical universities in Europe appeared, [1] then the scope of rankings widened to include most aspects of life; whether political, economic, social, military, technical, athletic, etc. Now, countries are competing in these categories to improve their ranking position.

Country Ranking as one of the Soft Power Components

Since the day Joseph Nye introduced the concept of “soft power” in 1990, most countries realized that the ranking of a country in the international ranking forms is among the soft power indicators. For, on the one hand, this ranking is to be considered an attraction force, and on the other hand, it improves the state’s image in the international community, whether for its peoples or their rulers. This matter is of great interest for Israel. But how important is the ranking of a country in these forms: [2]

1. It enhances the opportunities to attract foreign investment and encourages trade with that country, even lending it, in addition to attracting students to study at its universities. This is evident, for example, in the competition for the advanced positions in university rankings, and in the Ease of Doing Business Index, which would enhance trade relations with highly ranked countries. [3]

2. The high ranking of a country enhances the chances of tourism, for more the country is politically stable the higher its tourism rate, and the higher its ranking, the more tourism contribute to it. [4]

3. The rapprochement between the international community bodies and the country that holds the highest ranks would increase, thus strengthening the negotiating position of this country.

4. The high ranking state will enjoy wide international public support, hence it will become an attraction hub for international or regional organizations, NGOs, or intellectual, literary and sports activities, etc.

5. Monitoring the ranking of a particular country in different ranking forms helps to identify its major trends, progressing sectors and lagging ones.

6. A country that is highly ranked in certain sectors becomes an attractive model for other countries, which would follow its example. This gives “added value” to the country’s soft power account.

Forms and Methodologies of Country Ranking [5]

In general, an achievement is a tool for measuring the differences in a specific category between individuals, groups, countries, or various organizations. As students are ranked according to their scores, or companies according to their profits or production volume, or parties according to their number of seats, a huge number of international scientific organizations have elaborated indices and established country ranking forms, which are based on: [6]

1. Defining the category to be measured (political, social, economic, or military, etc) or a comprehensive one.

2. Identifying the indices of the category to be measured, for example, if it’s the economic category, the indices would be the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GDP per capita, trade volume, reserves, etc. Similarly with other categories (political, social, etc).

3. Identifying the sub-indices, whose total forms the index; for example when measuring the democracy index, we measure the sub-indices like electoral integrity, censorship, freedom of opinion, and freedom of organization, etc. Then, the aggregation of sub-indices produces a final index score.

4. The value or percentage of the main index is determined, and the values of each sub-index according to their importance are defined. This is done by following statistical steps like the analysis of the cross impact or the correlation coefficient, or regression analysis to know the general trend of the index, or by polling the experts, etc.

5. All sub-indices are added to get the value of the main index. Then the main indices are added.

6. Ranking the country according to the sum of its indices, while noting the following:

a. The number of countries varies according to different measurement forms.

b. The difference between the forms is not much, for they are mostly based on either similar or sufficiently credible sources of information.

There are about 85 institutions that measure indices based on different forms, and the average sum of the indices of these forms is around 165 major and sub-indices. [7]

Locating Israel in These Indices [8]

The Israeli media tries to focus on the ranking of Israel in global indices, focusing in particular on categories that Israel excels in, such as international influence, education, universities and patents, etc. [9]

And to show the interest of Israel in the significance of its ranking in various fields, suffice to take a look at a pro-Israel article and its reaction to a website that ranks the world’s armies, placing Iran above Israel. It criticizes the method of calculation of scores, where 55 individual factors are utilized and modifiers are applied, [10] whereas these methods are not crticized if they put Israel in the top list. For instance, some democracy rankings do not consider the occupation index and the number of detainees under occupation among the indicators of democracy or human rights. Even the Globalization index, it is questioned if the results of Israel are not as it expects. [11]

To determine the overall ranking of Israel in the major categories, we observed four main sectors, and we used the major index forms of each sector, while comparing them to other forms to ensure more precision, and at the same time taking any differences into consideration.

1. The economic sector: It includes 11 indices, each with sub-indices (such as GDP, GDP per capita, development index, human capital, trade volume, globalization, etc). Each index may have a different number of sub-indices with different weights. For example, in the A.T. Kearney/Foreign Policy Globalization Index, there are 14 variables or sub-indices, while in the KOF Globalization Index there are nine. [12]

2. Social sector: it includes 9 indices; education, technology patents, entertainment, social violence, etc.

3. Political sector: it includes 10 indices; democracy, political stability, international relations, arrests, freedom of thought, press, etc.

4. Military sector: It includes 6 indices; military expenditure (% of GDP), firepower, arms sale, militarization, etc.

Observation led to the following:

1. The general ranking of Israel was 42nd out of 160 countries.

2. At the sectors level, the results were as follows:

a. In the economic sector: Its world ranking is 24.

b. In the political sector: Its world ranking is 60.

c. In the social sector: Its world ranking is 62.

d. In the military: Its world ranking is 23.

Result Analysis

If we divided the country ranks into four (High, middle, low and weak), Israel is highly ranked in the military and economic sectors, whereas it was among the middle ranks in the political and social sectors. This means that Israel is a strong, technically advanced country, but it is much less ranked in human-related issues (political and social).

The above conclusion requires Arab and Palestinian planners to think of how to deepen this defect in the Israeli structure. We believe that this can be done through various forms of resistance, whose aspects are further clarified when some sub-indices are explained:

1. In the Press Freedom Index, Israel is ranked 101 out of 180 countries.

2. In the Global Peace Index, Israel is ranked 144 out of 163 countries.

3. In crime (Drugs, money laundering, organ trafficking, white slave trade), Israel is ranked 129 out of 245 countries or political entities (Some islands and autonomous regions are included, especially that they were often shelters for bank branches and giant companies to launder money through offshore banking units (OBUs). [13] It is known that Israel, in 2003, was blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, an international body that sets standards in the fight against money laundering and terror financing. [14]

4. Israel has fallen from being ranked 28 among the world’s countries in 2016 to 35 in 2019, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). That leaves Israel falling closer to the rank of 50 out of some 180 countries, considered the redline for corruption. [15]

The Gravity of Normalization

If we examined the sub-indices of the two main social and political sectors, the Globalization Index shows the dangerous role that Arab openness plays in strengthening the Israeli global position. For the political globalization indices will be enhanced with every step of Arab openness to Israel, not to mention the improvement that will ensue on the economic indices level. It is enough to see the following indicators: [16]

1. The increase of trade volume between Israel and the Gulf countries reaching about one billion dollars.

2. The sports, intelligence, tourism and official Arab visits to Israel have increased.

3. Arab hiring of Israeli companies or forging partnerships with them have increased (especially in the telecommunication domain).

4. The very weak Arab reaction to the “deal of the century,” proposed by US President Trump, thus promoting the impression internationally that the plan may be implemented. Consequently, the number of delegations coming to Israel will increase in the hope of contributing to the projects of “deal of the century.”

5. The Arab media has changed in terms of concepts, boycott related terms, and news related to Israel.

6. Endeavors to establish civil society organizations (CSOs) that include Arab and Israeli elite.

These changes when turned into quantitative indices will be-according to the weights of the sub-indices related to them-consolidating continuously Israel’s position, hence the burden would increase on the Palestinian side.

Israel is seeking to strengthen its international ranking to expand its international political space, and at the same time, is working on turning the Israeli-Arab conflict from a zero sum game to a non zero sum game. In the first case, every loss by one side (-1) is a gain to the other side (+1) and the sum would be zero. In the second case, the objective is to combine conflict and cooperation, within a future perspective, to widen gradually the scope of Arab-Israeli cooperation. In this case, the weight of conflict of interests would become less important, for the wider the circle of Arab-Israeli common interests, the less important the contradictory interests, especially on the Palestinian side. Therefore, strengthening Israeli-Arab relations aims to make the Palestine issue gradually lose its weight. This is what Israel is aspiring to achieve, supporting its endeavors with a strategy to enhance its regional and international ranking in global indices and employ it at all levels.

Strengthening the Resistance

The other side of this issue is strengthening all forms of resistance, for this will hugely affect the indices and sub-indices, and consequently negatively impact Israel’s ranking and its ensuing effects. As a matter of fact, the resistance directly affects the indices that have higher relative weight, and whose impacts are clear in the global indices as follows: [17]

1. Economic and technical indices: 37%.

2. Social indices: 39%.

3. Political indices: 24%.

Two Application Examples

It’s enough to take two application examples of index forms:

First: Fragile States Index

The Fund for Peace institution has been publishing The Fragile States Index for 15 years. It is based on 12 key political, social and economic indicators and over 100 sub-indicators. With respect to Israel, this index indicates the following:

1. Israel was ranked 67 out of 178 countries gaining a total of 76.5 points during the period 2018-2019, which means it has a fragility rate of 63.75%. It is sufficiently matched with results of the Political Stability Index issued by The Global Economy, where Israel was ranked 163rd out of 195 countries, getting -0.93 on a scale that ranges between +2.5 (the most politically stable) to -2.5 (the least politically stable), which means that Israel is unstable by 63%. [18] A percentage similar to the previous one.

2. During 2013–2019, Israel’s ranking improved by 7.8 points, due to the policies of the Palestinian Authority, whether concerning security coordination or the flabby Arab and Palestinian diplomacy when interacting with various global powers. This is despite the fact that all international public opinions favor the Palestinian side.

Second: Ranking Forms Related to International Students in Israeli Universities: [19]

According to the 2019 Academic Ranking of World Universities published by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, six Israeli universities were ranked among the top 500 universities worldwide, ranking between 85 and 401. This have strengthened the soft power of Israel, which is evident in the number of international students in these universities, where in 2019, it reached 12 thousand, a thousand student increase since 2017. Israel seeks to increase this number to 24 thousand in 2022. If we take into account the population compared to the number of foreign students, Israel is in an advanced position in the international ranking of the number of foreign students. It is noted that the Israeli attraction efforts are directed to North America, China and India, aiming—as stated in Israeli reports—to strengthen Israel’s status, by connecting with these graduates later and strengthening relations with their country. However, Israeli reports have highlighted political obstacles, which contribute to delaying the achievement of Israeli goals in this regard.


The advanced ranking of Israel in global indices is part of its soft power. It tries to promote these ranking to reap the ensuing gains. However, measurements indicate that the increase of resistance operations negatively affects Israel’s ranking in political, social and economic sectors. In return, the disorderly Arab and Palestinian policies and statements positively reflect on Israel’s ranking, a matter that one must be aware of, due to its threat to the chances of positive international interaction with Palestinian rights.

[1] Péter Érdi, Ranking: The Unwritten Rules of the Social Game We All Play (U.K: Oxford University Press, 2020), p. 130.
[2] Malaka Gharib, Countries Are Ranked On Everything From Health To Happiness. What’s The Point?, site of npr, 14/6/2019,
[3] Bjorn Hoyland, Karl Moene and Fredrik Willumsen, “The Tyranny of International Index Rankings,” site of Universitetet i Oslos, April 2009,
[4] Institute for Economics and peace, Global Peace Index: Measuring Peace in a Complex World, Global Peace Index 2019, site of Vision of Humanity, June 2019,
[5] Romina Bandura and Carlos Martin del Campo, “A Survey of Composite Indices Measuring Country Performance: 2006 Update,” A UNDP/ODS Working Paper, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 17/11/2006,
[6] Chang Zhang and Ruiqin Wu, “Battlefield of global ranking: How do power rivalries shape soft power index building?,” SAGE Journals, 18/6/2019,
[9] Ilanit Chernick, Annual report ranks Israel as 8th most influential country in the world, The Jerusalem Post newspaper, 22/4/2019,; Study in Israel, site of Top Universities,; and Michael Birnhack, Oren Perez, Ronen Perry and Doron Teichman, “Ranking Legal Publications: The Israeli Inter-University Committee Report,” Bar Ilan University Faculty of Law, Research Paper, no. 19-17, 18/7/2019,
[11] Charles D. Freilich, Israel National Security: A New Strategy for An Era of Change (U.K: Oxford University Press, 2018), chp. 4.
[12] Indicators of Globalization,
[13] Yonah Jeremy Bob, Israel falls close to redline in corruption index, The Jerusalem Post, 23/1/2020,
[14] Simona Weinglass, Now a member of anti-money-laundering body, has Israel truly cleaned up its act?, site of The Times of Israel, 13/1/2019,
[15] Yonah Jeremy Bob, Israel falls close to redline in corruption index, The Jerusalem Post, 23/1/2020,
[16] “Assessing Israel’s Trade With Its Arab Neighbours,” site of Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, 14/8/2018,; and Ksenia Svetlova, A new type of peace in the Middle East, The Jerusalem Post, 23/2/2020,
[17] Israel: Country Risk, site of Societe Generale,
[18] Fragile States Index 2019, The Fund for Peace, 10/3/2019; and Political stability – Country rankings, site of The Global Economy,
[19] Site of Study International,; Best 8 Universities & Colleges in Israel, site of Study Portals Masters,; and Top 10 Study Abroad Countries in the World – 2019 Rankings, 28/1/2020,

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 4/3/2020

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