Analysis: Closer to a Nobel minyan

Analysis Closer to a No

When US President Barack Obama reached out to the Muslim world in his landmark speech in Cairo on June 4, he listed the achievements of Muslims throughout history. Among them, he singled out that they had won Nobel prizes. But Obama, who wanted to find favor with Muslims, did them a favor by not getting into numbers. Since the prize was first given in 1901, it has been bestowed upon exactly nine Muslims. Now, thanks to Ada Yonath, the tiny state of Israel, home to just 7.4 million people, has equaled the achievement of some 1.5 billion Muslims, who make up roughly one fifth of the world's population. And that's just Israelis. There are only about 13.3 million Jews in the world today, yet Yonath will become the 171st Jew to win the Nobel Prize. Yonath is the first Israeli woman to win the prize. The Muslims who have won it are also eight men and one woman. But the list of Muslims includes a couple of dubious awards given to people who will not by any means be remembered fondly by much of the world. Yasser Arafat shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in 1994 for the Oslo diplomatic process. Norwegian Kaare Kristiansen resigned from the Nobel Committee in protest. International Atomic Energy Association director Mohamed ElBaradei won the Peace Prize in 2005, but if Iran succeeds in obtaining nuclear weapons, ElBaradei could be remembered not for peace, but for the deaths of thousands or even millions of people. The rest of the Muslims who have won it are less controversial: Peace Prize winners Anwar Sadat, Shirin Abadi and Mohammad Yunus; Abdus Salam in physics; Ahmed Zewail in chemistry; and Naguib Mahfouz and Orhan Pamuk in literature. Obama was referring to Zewail when he talked about American Muslims who had won the prize. Obama's Cairo speech has already been blasted for missed opportunities in educating the Muslim world about the need to recognize the realities of Jewish history, sovereignty and peoplehood. Israel equalizing the Muslim world in Nobels necessitates adding another missed opportunity to that list. Imagine how much of a positive impact Obama could have made had he let Muslims worldwide know how much better their lives are thanks to Yonath's predecessors as Israeli Nobel winners in chemistry, Aaron Ciechanover and Avraham Herschko. With Nobel number nine, Israel now has won more prizes than Spain and China and only one less than Australia. This could put a final nail into the coffin of the myth that the entire world is against us. Just look at what happened. An Israeli won a prestigious award from the Swedes, whose country sanctions articles accusing the Jewish state of harvesting Palestinian organs. So the next time the Jewish state faces criticism from friend or foe, Israelis can just think of Yonath and her eight compatriots with pride, knowing that an Israeli Nobel minyan is inevitably on the way.