The fierce public debate over how to view Israelis who go live overseas
intensified last week following Yair Lapid’s comment about Israelis living and
working in Germany and Mifal Hapayis national lottery chairman Uzi Dayan’s
comment that, “Israelis who go live in Germany repulse me.”
Yael Dayan, a Tel Aviv city councilwoman and a cousin of Uzi, said she doesn’t
think we should criticize Israelis who leave the country and that living abroad
does not constitute a betrayal of Zionism.
This debate was already a
much-discussed issue back in the days when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister, and
was overheard calling Israelis who live overseas “wimps.”
agree with Rabin, whereas others are just jealous and would join them if they
And yet a third group is completely indifferent to the public
discourse on this issue.
A study carried out by the Taub Center for
Social Policy Studies in Israel paints an extremely bleak picture of higher
education in the country. “The State of Israel currently invests NIS 26,000 in
every student, compared with NIS 82,000 in the 1970s.
decades, the amount Israel pays per student has decreased by more than
“Over the last few years, the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon has
worsened, and the situation in Israel is now worse than in any other Western
Research in Israeli universities is consistently being
neglected,” the report said.
The study claims that in 1973 there were 131
senior university staff personnel per 100,000 people in the population. This
ratio decreased in 2011 to 62 senior staff per 100,000 – or 53 percent fewer,
even though the number of students enrolled in schools of higher education
(including private colleges) rose by 428%.
A number of Israeli
universities have indeed formed centers for excellence and leading Israeli and
foreign researchers have been hired and large amounts of funding have been
allocated. The question remains, however, why have only a small number of such
centers been formed and why don’t all Israeli universities follow this
principle? Additionally, salaries of senior lecturers have decreased
dramatically and more and more researchers are ranked as junior faculty and are
therefore not eligible for large research grants. The result is that many
researchers abandon the universities for jobs in the private sector or in
research centers overseas which pay significantly higher salaries. The Taub
Center study also reveals that one-third of Israeli university-level researchers
are employed by American institutions, and this number is steadily
Prof. Dan Ben David writes in the Taub study that, “one out of
every seven economists in tenuretrack positions at the 10 leading economics
departments at American universities is an Israeli. This is a huge loss for
Israel and it is worth our while to offer Israelis overseas incentives to come
An article in the TheMarker quotes the Central Bureau of
Statistics: “In 2011, 14% of Israeli citizens who completed doctorates in
science and engineering have lived overseas for an extended period of time and
have no plans to return to Israel. Of Israelis who completed doctorates between
the years 1985 and 2005, only 10.5% have spent time living overseas and have no
plans to return to Israel.”
Another survey carried out by the Economic
Strategy Ministry and the Central Bureau of Statistics shows that close to 6,000
Israeli scientists who live overseas have no plans to come back to live in
The number of “brains” leaving Israel is actually slowly and
consistently falling, but the ones who are leaving now most likely will never
Academic and research institutions in the US offer Israeli
researchers more tenure-track positions, larger budgets, better opportunities in
quality research programs, higher salaries and more benefits. It is no wonder
then that Jewish brains continue to invent patents and win Nobel prizes in
America and not in Israel.
The main problem lies in the fact that the
world of academia in Israel has not adapted to the modern age. We have not
internalized the importance of keeping scientists at home. Teaching methods at
Israeli universities remain antiquated while the rest of the world has
modernized and is more accessible at very low costs – even to people living in
jungles in Africa.
Here in Israel, on the other hand, academia has become
a business. If you can pay, you can get a degree. If you can’t pay, you can’t.
And it costs a lot – especially the private colleges, which is where most
Israelis end up studying since the universities can only accept a small number
of those who apply. The veteran universities receive huge budgets from the state
and offer limited courses of study taught by faculty members who in many cases
are years past their prime.
The colleges (especially the technological
ones) on the other hand, offer a variety of study and research tracks. However,
since they do not receive government subsidies as the universities do, they
charge extremely high tuition and do not offer research
The sad outcome is that many talented Israelis live and
work overseas and future calls to Israelis who won the Nobel Prize will probably
also be made to US telephone numbers.
The writer is a former
brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security
Translated by Hannah Hochner.