Let’s start with the good news. On Oct. 13 in Israel, more than 300,000 students started the academic year at universities and colleges around the country. In the past decade, the percentage of Israelis accepted into institutions of higher learning has increased from some 20% of the relevant age group to almost 50%. Since the mid-1990s, Israel has ranked third in the number of scientific citations (relative to country wealth) and third in the number of scientific publications per million residents. Since 2000, five Israeli scientists have been awarded Nobel prizes.
From the world’s most prestigious award, we now move to the bad news in the areas of science, research and higher learning in Israel. Two of the three laureates for the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt, emigrated from Israel and make their homes in the United States. Many in Israel regard them as “descenders,” the translation of a term coined in Hebrew to describe those who leave the country. In the outspoken words of retired general Uzi Dayan, they are “traitors.”
The retired general’s declaration on his Facebook page is not sophisticated: “Leaving (descending from) Israel will ever be considered in my eyes as a betrayal of the Zionist idea — the return of the Jewish people to his homeland. I also loathe those who move to Germany. To those who explain leaving because of the economic situation, I remind of the anti-Semite claim, according to which Jews find their home in the place where they feel comfortable. Zionism claims that Jews can be well only in a Jewish state. True, many things here are in need of fixing. But they are to be fixed here only. Anyone can choose where he lives, and I am entitled to give my opinion on that.”
Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman, Daniel Kahneman, Haim Saban and thousands of other Israeli musicians, scientists and entrepreneurs who bestow honor on their state — are they all “traitors”?
The timing of Dayan’s statement, on Oct. 6, days before the Nobel Prize committee announced the American laureates of Israeli origin, proves that the head of the Israeli national lottery, Dayan, was not blessed with much luck in this case. On the other hand, the coincidence of Dayan’s outburst — and before that the critical remarks by Finance Minister Yair Lapid against Israelis who “descend” to Germany — and the Nobel prize awarded to two Israeli migrants moved the Iranian threat off the Israeli agenda in favor of a discussion about the crisis in Israel’s system of higher learning, research and development.
Official data indicate that the increasing flight of Israel’s finest scientists, mostly due to the lack of research means, threatens the country’s security and welfare no less than the unborn Iranian bomb. Israel’s strategic asset, dubbed its “qualitative advantage,” is eroding. Israel has these scientists, who enjoyed generous research and development budgets, to thank for the advanced military means acquired by it throughout its 65 years of existence.
In January, the Central Bureau of Statistics published Families of Israelis Abroad: Who Moves Where?, a comprehensive study edited by Ayelet Cohen-Castro and based on the profiles of 34,000 families of Israelis, some living abroad and others who returned to Israel between 1996 and 2008. They all had at least one child born abroad and had been away for at least one year. The study found that the relatively high rate of emigration to the United States of advanced degree holders is influenced by a lack of positions that would permit their integration and would guarantee them a suitable position among senior faculty in Israeli academia.
The policy of shrinking university staff has also led to a narrowing of the subject matter that universities can offer students and global research that can be conducted, as well as placing a heavier burden on remaining staff. This teaching load makes it harder for researchers to excel in research, a fact that places them in an inferior position compared with researchers from leading universities in the West.
A position paper compiled in April 2012 by Ami Wolenski for the Taub Center shows that Israel’s national expenditure per student plummeted to a third of the expenditure in the 1970s. Public investment in a student in Israel is about half that in the United States ($3,100 annually in Israel compared with $7,200). The ratio of students to senior lecturers has gone up, from 17 in 1990 to 24 in 2009. In several institutions, the ratio is as high as 50. The accepted ratio in the Western world is 10 students for every senior lecturer. The median age of a senior staff member in Israel is 53.5, compared with 46 in 1980. Some 50% of senior staff at universities are over 55 (compared with 32% in the United States and 16% in the United Kingdom).
Jonathan Levav, 37, an expert on marketing and decision making at the top-ranked Stanford University Graduate School of Business, epitomizes the depth of the crisis. Levav, who was made a professor at prestigious Columbia University at the age of 27, is invited to speak around the world about his research, including some he conducted jointly with the internationally renowned [professor of psychology and behavioral economics] Dan Ariely, another “descender-traitor” according to Dayan’s terminology.
“We came to the United States intending to stay here only two-three years,” Levav told Al-Monitor, “then you get married to a local, and then you have kids. Now all of a sudden, life becomes complicated, which means uprooting far from your aging parents and the Israeli experience. I did take a leave from my Ph.D. program to do my military service in Israel, but doing it at 25 meant that I didn’t have the same army experience as that of my childhood friends who stayed in Israel. Of course there are good researchers everywhere, but where there is a bigger cluster of researchers, the level of research improves dramatically. If I had my choice I’d live in Israel and work at Stanford, but that is very difficult given the 12,000-kilometer distance.”
The brilliant researcher feels that although Israeli universities cannot measure up to Harvard, MIT, Princeton and other American universities of the same caliber, they can definitely lead the second tier. “Statistics indicate that the relative contribution of Israeli academicians living in Israel is one of the highest in the world. Nonetheless, I fear that this data belongs to the past. It’s indicative of how unusual it was for Israelis to settle at universities abroad 20 to 50 years ago. I don’t believe that in 20 to 40 years we’ll have the same proportion of Nobel laureates coming out of Israeli universities. The level of investment [in research] today cannot match up to what it used to be.”
Levav says that three years ago he considered moving back to Israel, and his wife got an attractive job offer from a venture-capital fund in Israel. “That summer I was at a conference where I sat through a presentation of a decently regarded young Israeli academic in Israel. I remember saying to myself, ‘I’m not sure that I’m ready to walk away from a big-time university to join a place where this would be the level of my colleagues.’ Again, the scholar was nice, competent, etc., but you must see who sits on my hallway in the US. Then you’ll understand why it is hard to get excited about an Israeli university. I want to live in Israel — there’s a piece of me here in the US that’s dead and only comes to life in Israel — but it’s difficult to offset the professional differences.”
Levav says that at the marketing department at Columbia, where he taught, there were five other Israeli lecturers and an additional six at the accounting department. “We all bemoan the state of the universities there, and wonder how stupid we’ll feel when our parents die and we’re still here,” he says.
One of Stanford’s biggest draws for Levav was the large Israeli community there. “My biggest worry here is that my kids aren’t getting the Zionist connection that I had and have,” he says.
Naturally, he doesn’t like being called a “descender” and is hurt by the term “traitors” that Dayan dubbed Israelis like him. “Who are we betraying exactly? There are bigger traitors of Israel who live in Israel, if you ask me. At least most of us here serve as great ambassadors for the country.”
President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did well by congratulating the American Israeli or Israeli American Nobel prize laureates. The fruits of the ingenuity of great researchers, as that of great artists, and even that of great sportswomen, are the assets of humanity as a whole. Any reduction in the means laid out at their disposal by the public and any insult to their dignity betrays the honor of the state itself.
An Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Leonhard Foeger / File.
The acting chief of the UN nuclear watchdog policing Iran‘s nuclear deal with major powers, Cornel Feruta, will meet senior Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Friday.
“The visit is part of ongoing interactions between the IAEA and Iran,” the spokesman said
The headquarters of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in Tel Aviv. Photo: Screenshot.
The World Zionist Organization (WZO) on Friday opened a three-day conference in Santiago, the capital of Chile, on the topic of confronting antisemitism in Latin America.
Convened by WZO vice-chair Yaakov Hagoel, the conference will involve 150 Jewish professionals from around the region who will receive briefings from “high-level experts in the field to deal with the growing phenomenon,” the Spanish-language Jewish news outlet Diario Judio reported.
Russian immigrants (new olim) attend an event marking the 25th anniversary of the great Russian aliyah to Israel from the former Soviet Union at the Jerusalem Convention Center on Dec. 24, 2015. Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90.
JNS.org – For most olim, moving to Israel is the realization of a dream. After years of hoping and planning, making aliyah and taking root in the Jewish state is a joyous and exultant experience. Still, the big move is not without its challenges, and many new immigrants become frustrated while attempting to navigate Israeli bureaucracy, secure a job, and find the right neighborhood to call home.
Taglit-Birthright Israel trip participants visit the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, Aug. 18, 2014. Photo: Flash90.
JNS.org – “It’s so much more.” That’s the mantra of the 54 Jewish young adults from across North America who just wrapped up 10 weeks in Israel.
Sure, they had applied to the Birthright Israel Excel program for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to intern at Israeli offices of such top global companies as Facebook, Visa, Microsoft, Ernst & Young (EY), and Barclay’s.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announced that the State Department will consider allowing U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to list “Jerusalem, Israel” on their U.S. passports.
“We’re constantly evaluating the way we handle what can be listed on passports,” he told JNS in a wide-ranging interview. “It’s something that’s actively being looked at.”
The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry responded to this in a statement published in Wafa News saying the move was “an emphasis by the administration of President Donald Trump to antagonize the Palestinian people and undermine any chance for peace on the basis of a two-state solution.”
Sep 08, 2019 0Father Vladimir Tobin (courtesy: screenshot) HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – A Christian Orthodox priest in Nova Scotia was forced to retire after delivering a sermon that honored Judaism and Israel...
If you’re Jewish, how afraid should you be of being a victim of a violent anti-Semitic hate crime? In the wake of the Pittsburgh and Poway synagogue shootings in the last year, many American Jews remain afraid. The specter of white-supremacist hate that fueled those and other mass shootings has become the primary focus of those tasked with fighting and monitoring anti-Semitism.
If the use of Nazi symbolism in fashion was manifested in isolated cases, there would be only slight cause for concern. But when this trend is backed or glossed over by giants such as Amazon, the biggest online sales platform in the world, we cannot remain indifferent. From home decor to clothing and accessories, the popular website is infested with products depicting Holocaust victims heading to the gas chambers and images glorifying the Third Reich.
When the Second Intifada broke out in 2000, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin boasted that the desire of his people for death in the service of Hamas was greater than the Israelis’ desire to live. Yassin, of course, was not referring to himself; happy to send his people off to die, he himself clung to life and even believed that his advanced age and status would protect him. But nothing lasts forever, and in March 2004, he was killed in an Israeli airstrike.
Egypt’s leading authorities have reinstated a notoriously “radical” cleric and hate preacher to the pulpit (minbar), despite strong opposition.
According to Arab Weekly, “The Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments, which controls the mosques, gave Yasser Burhami, the deputy head of the Salafist Call, the umbrella organisation of Salafi movements, approval to deliver sermons before Friday prayers at the Wise Caliphs Mosque in Alexandria.”
This week’s Torah reading Shoftim, maps out for us, the ideal national structure, of the Jewish people in their homeland, the Land of Israel. It describes the policies that Jews should be striving to implement today: Malchut/Kingdom, Sanhedrin/Torah, Nevuah/Prophecy, and Kehunah/Temple.