The story of Israel's "economic miracle" is the topic of a keynote address by author Saul Singer, to be delivered at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 at Charleston Place Hotel.

The speech is part of the South Carolina SmartState Program's National Conference, whose focus is the development of a knowledge-based economy in the state.

Singer, a columnist and former editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post, and now an adjunct senior fellow at the Israeli Democracy Institute, will draw on his latest book, "Start-Up Nation," in discussing how Israel's economic miracle came to pass despite enormous challenges.

That miracle is largely due to a booming high-tech industry. As Singer notes in his book, co-written with Dan Senor, Israel has produced more companies listed on the NASDAQ than all of continental Europe. And the country's annual growth last year was 5.2 percent. Compare that to the U.S.'s 2.8 percent, Germany's 0.4 percent or Brazil's 0.7 percent.

But not everyone agrees that economic bliss has been achieved in Israel.

Huge protests erupted during the summer in an effort to highlight growing wealth disparities, high housing costs and the erosion of the welfare state. On Sept. 3, in Israeli's largest-ever demonstration, about 450,000 protesters gathered in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to call for social and economic justice, according to news reports.

The boom in Israel might be benefiting the high-tech sector, but fewer than 10 percent of Israelis hold such jobs, notes Eyal Press, who discusses "Start-Up Nation" and other similar books in the Nov. 24 issue of the New York Review of Books.

"As suggested by the level of support for the protests this summer, which ranged in polls between 75 and 88 percent, a miracle is not how most Israelis would describe what has happened to their economy in recent years," Press writes.

Israel has the fifth-highest level of inequality in the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. "It has the highest poverty rate of any OECD country, and ranks 25th among developed countries in health care investment." Protesters have criticized the Netenyahu government for promoting free-market solutions while scaling back its support of social services.

Still, Israel's high-tech boom is an extraordinary development in an embattled country and during a general period of global slowdown, and this is the story Singer comes to tell to participants of the conference, which takes place Dec. 4-6.

The SmartState Program was established by the South Carolina General Assembly in 2002, funded through South Carolina Education Lottery proceeds.

"The legislation authorizes the state's three public research institutions, Medical University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina, to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina's economy," according to the program's website. "Each Center is awarded from $2 million to $5 million in state funds, which must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with non-state funds."

Conference presenters include representatives of universities, multinational corporations, state and federal government and trade groups. The registration fee is $360 per person. For more information, and to register, visit www.sccoee.org/nationalconference.htm.

Opher Aviran, consul general of Israel to the Southeast, will briefly discuss Israel's successful knowledge-based economy before introducing Singer. Aviran, who is based in Atlanta, has been part of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1983.

While he is visiting Charleston, he will appear as the guest speaker at a separate event, "Stand Up for Israel," scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Jewish Community Center, 1645 Wallenberg Blvd. in West Ashley.

That public event is sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Charleston Jewish Federation and the Israel Activism Task Force, an independent group of individuals who support the Jewish state.

Aviran will discuss current events and concerns, including Iran's nuclear program, the recent release by Hamas of Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, and the Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations and a seat at the Security Council.

Admission is free. A dessert reception will follow. For more information, contact Sarah Swingle at 571-6565 or Eileen Chepenik at 532-5318.