The recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics said he has never experienced anti-Semitism or witnessed anti-Israel bias during his long academic career.
Visiting Israel less than a month after taking home the world’s top physics prize, Serge Haroche said he opposes an academic boycott of Israel.
“All the colleagues I know in this area are against such a boycott,” said Haroche, who is French and Jewish. “Maybe there are some people in the humanities or the social sciences or political who are politically biased or translate their political beliefs into the scientific area. But I’ve never had anything of this kind.”
However, the Moroccan-born Haroche, 68, acknowledged a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France.
“This happens in the suburbs and is due to the unemployment of a lot of people from Muslim descent and the Palestinian situation,” he told The Times of Israel during a reception at the residence of French ambassador Christophe Bigot. “But I must tell you that in the scientific area, I never had the slightest problem.”
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz and Israeli scientist Ada Yonath, who in 2009 received the Nobel Prize in chemistry, also attended the event.
Haroche, who has visited the country many times, is staying in Israel until Thursday, but will not meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or President Shimon Peres.
A French embassy official said Haroche’s visit was scheduled before the October 9 announcement of his winning the prize. An official in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu would be interested in meeting with Haroche, but no meeting has been set up yet. On Wednesday, Netanyahu travels to France for a two-day visit.
Together with US-based researcher David J. Wineland, Haroche won this year’s Nobel Prize for “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems,” according to the prize committee.
Haroche and his team were lauded for managing to capture and study a piece of light — a photon — without destroying it (the visible part of light is usually destroyed when it hits the eye).
“Through their ingenious laboratory methods they have managed to measure and control very fragile quantum states, enabling their field of research to take the very first steps towards building a new type of super fast computer, based on quantum physics,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stated when they announced their decision to honor Haroche and Wineland. “These methods have also led to the construction of extremely precise clocks that could become the future basis for a new standard of time, with more than hundred-fold greater precision than present-day caesium clocks.”
Born in 1944 in Casablanca, Haroche and his family — his father was a lawyer and his mother a teacher of Russian origin — moved to France in 1956, when he was 12. Haroche studied at the École Normale Supérieure under Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, himself a Jew of North African descent, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. Haroche then entered the National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris and started teaching at École Normale Supérieure, as well as other universities such as Yale and Harvard.
Speaking to reporters, the soft-spoken Haroche rejected the assumption that his Moroccan-Jewish upbringing had anything to do with his academic success.
“The Nobel Prize and the research I conducted have no correlation with the fact that I was born in Casablanca nor with the fact that I love Israel and that I come here often,” he said. “Actually, the only connection one could see is with French culture because it was in France where I was educated… That’s what formed me.”
Haroche’s grandparents were the directors of a Jewish school in Morocco, he added. “They formed generations of young Jews.”
Without getting into politics, he said he hoped that Israel would be able to solve its currents problems but added that he wasn’t very optimistic regarding current developments.