Ciechanover: Brain drain reminiscent of 1930s Germany

Nobel Laureate and Technion chemistry professor speaks during a special press conference called by the Council for Higher Education.

Aaron Ciechanover 88 (photo credit: )
Aaron Ciechanover 88
(photo credit: )
Nobel Laureate and Technion chemistry professor Aaron Ciechanover on Monday compared Israel's current brain drain to the early 1930s, when Hitler's rise to power and initial persecution of the Jews led many great scientists and teachers to flee Germany, mainly to the United States. Ciechanover referred to the period, known now as "Hitler's Gift," during a special press conference called by the Council for Higher Education held in Tel Aviv to mark the one-year anniversary of the Shochat Committee's recommendations. Those recommendations have not been implemented or discussed by the government. The most critical recommendation was a massive influx of cash to maintain the higher education system. After the press conference Ciechanover clarified that, "I was not comparing nor did I intend to compare Nazi Germany to democratic Israel, home of the Jewish people and my home. I gave an extreme example of a situation where an atmosphere of delegitimization led to a brain drain. "I apologize to anyone who was insulted by my example. That comparison [between Nazi Germany and Israel] did not occur to me and would not occur to any thinking person." Ciechanover also ridiculed those who alleged that he spent all his time flying from place to place rather than teaching or researching. "They claim I do not work at all, but rather fly around in airplanes. Except here and there I found time to do research, which was cited 200,000 times and was awarded some Nobel prize," he mocked. Israel Academy of Sciences head Prof. Menahem Yaari characterized the press conference as the eulogy for the Shochat Report. "This is the memorial day for the Shochat Report. Since its publication, the system has gotten worse and the attacks upon it have become unrestrained," he declared. Avraham (Baiga) Shochat himself blasted both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Education Minister Yuli Tamir for causing the report to be buried. "I am furious at the government because it erred greatly when it received the signed report and instead of approving the report, which had garnered the support of the whole system and included a budget, the prime minister and the education minister placed responsibility for the report on Minister Haim Ramon, even though I never understood why they chose him specifically. "Ramon took one decision on the matter which was to discuss the report only after the state budget was approved. That effectively buried the report," Shochat stated. The Planning and Budget Committee, a subcommittee of the Council for Higher Education, has said that NIS 1.8 billion is needed for the universities to be able to open their doors next year. Committee head Prof. Shmuel Grossman reiterated Monday that if the government did not adopt the Shochat Report, the school year would not open in October. Tamir issued a statement in response to the press conference saying "The higher education hourglass has finished. I demand that the proposal I put together in coordination with all the relevant parties be brought up this coming Sunday at the cabinet meeting as was promised by the finance minister." The Finance Ministry responded to the many claims of obstructionism alleged at the press conference and the ultimatums issued by chastising the heads of the higher education system. "The heads of the higher education system demanded at least NIS 600 m. extra for next year's budget. The demand was presented as an ultimatum amidst a declaration that if they did not get the requested increase, they would leave the negotiations. "At the Treasury, we are accustomed to negotiating seriously and to the point, exactly as we were taught in university. Budget talks are not conducted via edicts and placing preconditions on allocating public funds, but rather through looking at all of the economy's needs. "We are dismayed that, once again, the higher education system chooses the way of the strike and prefers to harm the student body, for what would be the fourth consecutive year. The distorted budgeting of the Planning and Budget Committee does not encourage excellence and it is what is bringing about the brain drain. The Treasury once again calls for efficiency and transparency in the handling of the NIS 6b. [higher education budget]," the ministry released in a statement. National Union of Israeli Students head Boaz Toporovsky said that neither Ciechanover's comparisons nor the Shochat Report were helpful and called on the government to uphold its previous commitments.