If manic-depressive joy and hand-wringing over Israel’s win/non-win of a Nobel Prize yesterday is your sort of thing, you should pick up some Hebrew newspapers this morning, which are chock full of that special Israeli mix of pride and guilt we call life.
Each paper alternates between crowing and eating crow over the fact that one of the Nobel chemistry winners Wednesday (Arieh Warshel) was born in Israel but left, and one (Michael Levitt) actually moved here but then left as well. (A third, Martin Karplus, is a Vienna-born Jew. Whose daughter is a Jerusalem doctor.) Israel Hayom sums up the zeitgeist with the headline “Nobel (almost) ours.”
The paper’s Dan Margalit, like everybody else, laments the Israeli brain drain that has led to this situation, which he says stems both from policies in academia that prevent young researchers from moving up, and from parents who don’t teach their kids right:
“Preventing the decline also requires a braking system, which is firstly at home and at school. These places are no longer invalidating emigration from Israel as they did in the past. They don’t do the ‘come home Yonatan’ thing. A dam needs to be rebuilt by a sweeping educational vision, which is able to work against the apathy of teachers and parents.”
Maariv reports that Kibbutz Sde Nahum, where Warshel was born and raised, refused to pay for his first academic degree because he was pursuing a field seen as useless toward the furthering of the economy. According to the kibbutzniks, Warshel would still come visit while his parents were alive, but stopped after they died, since “science was the only thing that interested him.”
The paper features a commentary by Hebrew University head Menachem ben Sasson, who says that unlike what many say, it’s not the lower pay that keeps Israeli researchers from returning home after pursuing advanced degrees abroad.
“Many academics and researchers have said several times that they would be willing to take a pay cut to move back to Israel and work here, as it’s not just their homeland but also a world center for creativity and innovation,” he says. “The problem lies in the limited number of jobs and positions waiting for them in Israel, and the lack of infrastructure for advanced research that is so necessary for breaking new ground.”
Haaretz’s Or Kashti says that any Israeli pride in the win is misplaced, calling congratulations from officials a “clumsy attempt to claim a scientist who left,” and that the way things are going, it will only get worse, though don’t tell official Jerusalem that.
“There’s really no need to spoil the party that these politicians are now trying to sell the public. The overcrowded classrooms, canceling of courses and merging of others, the rise in the academic staff’s average age, the meager number of available positions, the thriving private colleges and the brain drain of a generation of researchers to foreign universities — these matters can be postponed to some later date, as far in the future as possible.”
Readers sick of all the Israeli ruing may want to turn to Page 4 in Yedioth Ahronoth, where 2009 Nobel winner Ada Yonath, of the Weizmann institute, writes about her friends Warshel and Levitt.
On Warshel: “He always knew more than me, he came to Weizmann to learn his doctorate, and immediately focused on very difficult questions, and they completely confused me,” she says. “I don’t think he asked them to confuse me, but because he wanted the answer … In his heart and his behavior he remained a typical kibbutznik.”
On Levitt: “He would always go around with sandals and a backpack,” she says. “He was really sharp. Arieh was also sharp, a practical sharpness, but Mike had an internal philosophical sharpness. … He came and he went … I enjoy very much speaking with him and learning from him.”
Malarkey and mud-slinging
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s campaign for a Nobel Peace Prize may have gotten a boost Wednesday with reports that Tehran is ready for a deal to give up some uranium in exchange for eased sanctions. Israel Hayom, though, reports on the Israeli response, namely that the deal is nothing but so much malarkey. The paper quotes an unnamed senior Israeli official who says that the deal will not affect their ability to enrich, and will still allow them to reach a bomb. It also quotes strategic affairs minister Yuval Steinitz saying the deal is a “joke.”
Speaking of bearded, turbaned leaders, hagiographies of the late great Rabbi Ovadia Yosef have morphed into stories of politics and political infighting. Maariv reports that a number of local councils are taking advantage of all the attention on the rabbi and Shas in the wake of his death, and have begun putting out campaign posters with his picture and claims to be following his path.
Yedioth Ahronoth jumps into the mix with a story detailing the squeeze being put on former leader Eli Yishai by the rabbi’s sons, who reportedly pulled him aside during morning prayers on Wednesday and told him if he wants to stay in the party, he’ll have to cut off contact with former chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, who has become persona non grata in the Yosef circle. Yishai, according to the story, is none too pleased. “Everyone knows of my absolute love for the rabbi. People are spilling my blood,” he is quoted saying, using an Israeli expression for dragging his name through the mud. “They are hurling unprecedented accusations at me. I have no intention of breaking up Shas. There are people who want to hurt me personally. I’ve been more dedicated than anyone to the rabbi. But my blood is being spilled.”
The ability to regroup after a tragedy is not a new thing in Israel, Ari Shavit notes in Israel Hayom’s op-ed page, writing that Israel in 1974 failed to rebuild itself after the Yom Kippur War. “Most of the pillars of Israel today were cast in that unique year after the Yom Kippur War. To a great extent we are what we are today as a result of the deep processes launched 40 years ago. But to a great extent, what we are not today is the result of what was not launched 40 years ago. That is because post-traumatic Israel missed the opportunity within the crisis of the Yom Kippur War. It patched over and improvised, but did not accomplish the huge task it was given. It did not take advantage of the national trauma to establish an enlightened, strong and moral republic here.”