Analysis: Bringing Israeli expertise back home

A total of 11% of Israeli doctoral graduates since 1981 have spent at least three years abroad by 2017.

Tel Aviv University  (photo credit: EYTAN HALON)
Tel Aviv University
(photo credit: EYTAN HALON)
Timing is everything.
Only 45 minutes before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced the appointment of Prof. Amir Yaron as the next governor of the Bank of Israel, the Central Bureau of Statistics published its annual report on educated Israelis living abroad.
Born and raised in Israel, Yaron has been sharing his economic expertise with American students for over two decades since completing his PhD at the University of Chicago in 1994.
Yaron is certainly in good company according to the latest "brain drain" statistics, driven by motivations for higher wages, cheaper housing and greater employment opportunities.
A total of 11% of Israeli doctoral graduates since 1981 have spent at least three years abroad by 2017. That means those benefiting from over one-tenth of Israel's brightest academic minds are non-Israelis.
Some 33,000 or 5.8% of recipients of all Israeli academic degrees between the academic years 1980-81 and 2010-11 spent at least three years living abroad by 2017.
Between 2000 and 2015 alone, over 81,000 Israelis obtained lawful permanent resident status in the United States, according to US Department of Homeland Security immigration figures.
According to some estimates, there could be as many as one million Israeli citizens living in the US today, taking into account children born to Israeli parents.
Considering that not every highly-trained Israeli living abroad will be appointed governor of the Bank of Israel, how can the country encourage them back into the Israeli academic fold?
It's not for lack of trying on the part of the government, although it has sent mixed messages to Israeli expats.
Eight years ago, the government launched an initiative to bring Israeli expertise back to the domestic market and for Israelis to benefit domestically from Israeli know-how.
A joint venture by the Innovation Authority, Council for Higher Education and the Absorption and Finance ministries called the "Israel Brain Gain" program is at the forefront of that effort. The initiative operates as a one-stop shop for those considering a return to Israel.
The program, the Innovation Authority says, assists professionals and their families throughout the entire process of returning to Israel - from the early stages of job searching all the way to acclimatizing to daily life in Israel.
Encouragingly, the venture lacks the controversy generated by the Absorption Ministry's 2011 video campaign which sought to encourage Israelis abroad to return to Israel by suggesting they'll assimilate and lose their identity - the campaign only succeeded in annoying US Jewry.
The campaign was discontinued, and it seems that the ministry drew conclusions that it's better to positively encourage Israelis to return rather than make them feel guilty.
In its most recent campaign, "Returning Home for Israel's 70th Anniversary," Israelis opting to return "home" will benefit from a wide range of financial incentives. NIS 3 million was allocated toward the initiative.
Between campaigns, the Foreign Ministry's "Israeli House" initiative, which is running at a number of embassies and consulates including London, Paris, Chicago and San Francisco, can only help the goal of maintaining a connection with Israeli emigrants and, just maybe, returning some of that expertise to the country.