This week, two news stories emerged that indicate Israel is in danger and needs
to rethink its national priorities.
The risks are real: If we don’t stop
our unparalleled brain drain and return higher education to its rightful place,
we will abandon our place as the world’s “Start-up Nation,” undermine our
ability to compete in a modern global economy, give up the standard of living we
enjoy and imperil our ability to survive in a hostile neighborhood.
Wednesday three Jewish professors – two of them Israeli-Americans – were jointly
awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
While on one level this is
reason to celebrate, a closer look at the winners’ biographies paints a picture
that should give us pause.
According to media reports, the two Israelis –
one of them an oleh (immigrant) and one of whom fought bravely in two wars – had
left Israel to continue their work in the United States.
This brings us
to the other story: a report by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies that
shows a flood of Israeli researchers and academics streaming to the
Despite massive growth in Israel’s population and economy in recent
decades, our government’s focus and spending on higher education have declined
to the point where 29 out of every 100 Israeli scholars emigrate to
It wasn’t always this way.
Earlier generations knew that
education was the key to climbing out of poverty and turning themselves, and our
country, into a success story.
Yet the Taub report tells us that “a much
wealthier Israel with much greater budgetary capacity than in the 1950s and
1960s has steadily neglected its world-class academic
Since the 1970s, the report tells us, “the country is much
wealthier and has significantly greater ability to develop its university
system, but Israel dramatically changed course. Over the next four decades, the
country’s universities steadily receded from the nation’s national
We must wake up and realize the major risks this trend poses
to Israeli society. It is no exaggeration to say the brain drain is jeopardizing
everything Israelis have worked so hard to achieve.
This is not a problem
the universities can solve on their own. At the most fundamental level it
requires a change of consciousness among Israeli society. If the cost of cottage
cheese and apartments can trigger a summer of protest, then the loss of our best
teachers, research scientists and innovators should stir some sort of
In practical terms what we need is specific action at the
government level. While Israel’s research universities are incredibly
productive, we urgently need the government to fund more positions for
researchers and build advanced facilities where they can conduct groundbreaking
The Chinese example is instructive. Understanding that
true superpower status is achieved through research and development, the
government created the physical conditions that allowed researchers to do their
best work in China. A program to develop the most sophisticated and
best-equipped laboratories has helped stem the tide of departing researchers and
helped China reap great economic rewards.
We also need a national program
to open up positions for researchers, academics and innovators here at home.
This means investing considerable cash and creativity in finding ways to employ
our best people in academia, research and development. Israel has the highest
concentration of talent in the world, but in the absence of adequate resources,
our talent will turn toward other lands and other callings, and we will all be
I understand the attraction to great opportunities and big
paychecks. But in conversations with our best and brightest, I have found that
many will forgo greater pay in order to take part in the great Israeli success
story – if we can provide them with appropriate jobs and workplaces.
us act now to stem the brain drain, and ensure the next generation of Nobel
laureates receives the good news here at home, in Israel.The writer is
president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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