Nobel Prize sparks 'brain drain' debate in Israel

JERUSALEM Thu Oct 10, 2013 9:03am EDT

Michael Levitt, a professor of structural biology at Stanford University, gestures after speaking at a press conference in Stanford, California October 9, 2013.REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Michael Levitt, a professor of structural biology at Stanford University, gestures after speaking at a press conference in Stanford, California October 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Nobel Prize in chemistry has stirred up national pride in Israel but also concern on Thursday over a brain drain of some of its best and brightest to universities in the United States.

Two of the three scientists who won the prize on Wednesday hold Israeli citizenship, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to phone in his congratulations - long distance.

Both men, Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California and Michael Levitt of Stanford University School of Medicine, immigrated years ago to the United States after scientific work in Israel and became Americans.

That set Israel, a small country of eight million people that has seen 12 of its citizens take home a Nobel medal, talking about the ones that got away - scientists, doctors and other academics who have chosen to leave for foreign shores.

It's a real problem, a new study showed this week, even in a so-called "start-up nation" where homegrown talent has spawned innovative high-tech companies, some of them acquired for mega-millions by industry leaders such as Apple and Google.

The Taub Center for Social Studies in Israel found the emigration rate of Israeli researchers has become the highest among Western nations.

Citing statistics for 2008, it said there were 29 Israeli academics working in U.S. universities for every 100 remaining in Israeli institutions of higher education.

The country that came in second to Israel on the list, Canada, had a ratio of 11.5 researchers in the United States per every 100 back home.


"In fields such as economics, financing and marketing, huge salary gaps have evolved and, as a result of that, more and more Israelis who work in those fields decide not to return home," the study said.

Daniel Hershkowitz, president of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said more than a third of computer science researchers at top U.S. universities are Israeli.

"I don't see Israel being able to compete with what they offer in the United States. We are talking about a vastly different scale," he told Israel Radio.

Netanyahu's congratulatory phone calls to the two emigrant Nobel winners came just days after his finance minister, Yair Lapid, publicly criticized Israelis who opt to live in Berlin.

Speaking Hebrew in a series of Israeli media interviews, Warshel, who was born on a kibbutz, or collective farm, and Levitt, a native of South Africa, alluded to the difficulties in climbing the academic ladder in Israel.

Their wives, however, seemed bitter.

"Israel doesn't give a lot, and that's why people are leaving. This is a result of pettiness, small-mindedness and people who can't think big," Levitt's spouse, Rinat, told Army Radio. Warshel's wife, Tamar, said her husband didn't receive tenure in Israel, "and that's why we had to leave".

Israeli interviewers posed the formula question that is always asked of compatriots who have chosen to emigrate from a state established as a refuge for the Jewish people: When are you coming back, and not just for a visit?

The short answer was, not any time soon.

(Editing by Crispian Balmer and Ralph Boulton)

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Comments (7)
LanceSmith wrote:
Don’t worry… Washington continues to kill research in the US, we’ll start loosing our best and brightest soon enough. It amazes me how much politicians (and administrators in general) want to kill the goose!

Oct 10, 2013 12:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
pupdog wrote:
Maybe it has something to do with a rabidly warmongering prime minister who believed he has all of America under his thumb?

Oct 10, 2013 12:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
2Borknot2B wrote:
Transmissions echo our way. Make them over, make them now. His name is forgotten and his name is everyone. He is the that – that wanders around, never settles down and loves everybody the same. He has a rose on his chest and a crown of thorns. His truth is divine. He never goes anywhere, but travels the world. He looks at those who search for the moon beam, blown there by serendipity. Weather veins. To repent means, your truth is your own, and not what they tell you. Undue what is lurking! Your creations and thoughts of Catechism has made things this way. He came for a pound of flesh. You have been forgotten. You are a used up, sugarless and bitter, with memories in total decay with your blackened soul. A spider can hang on a string or spin a web, and even they thought it would never end. We own the future! We are looking at the tracts of the careless past. Shake them up, or they will bring us down! Big things tock, small things block.

Oct 10, 2013 2:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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