On Tuesday and Wednesday all of us heard about the amazing achievements of Jewish scientists who won Nobel Prizes this year in Physics and Chemistry. The latest is Arieh Warshel who, together with two other Jewish scientists, won the prize for “development of multi-scale models for complex chemical systems.”
These are the moments that unite us as Jews, regardless of our different political opinions, as we rejoice in the success of one of our ‘brothers’ and how great it is that an Israeli won a Nobel Prize (and of course not for the first time). However it’s hard not to detect the hypocrisy that surrounds it, especially when one of the hot topics in Israel right now is the Emigrants, known as yordim.
A series of reports by Israeli Channel 10 showed why many young Israelis are leaving the country to Europe and the US. One of the main reasons is the unbearable cost of living and the lack of career opportunities. These are not people who are anti-Zionists, but ordinary people who just want to live with dignity in the country where they were born, to raise a family. You know, these are not big demands, but the country isn’t able to provide them with this and in effect leaves them no choice.
So how do Israel’s politicians choose to react? Using the oldest trick in the book, demagoguery. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who visited Hungary, posted this miserable piece (in Hebrew) on his Facebook page in which he makes cynical use of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and blames the ‘Yordim’ for choosing to have ‘comfortable’ lives. Really Yair, how do they dare to wish to have comfortable lives and not be slaves of the system?
This is coming from a person who grew up in London, worked in the US, travelled with his father across Europe and has a fortune estimated 22 million shekel fortune. Isn’t this what’s called hypocrisy? And for those with selective memory, here is what Lapid said in Haaretz just before the last elections: “We can’t be angry at the emigrants, they are there because they don’t have a choice’…until we change the way the country works, until we reduce the living costs and create new jobs, we can’t blame them.” So basically, Mr Lapid, who acknowledged the issues of living costs as a key part of his election campaign, now has the chutzpah to rebuke the emigrants.
But it’s not just Lapid. General Uzi Dayan (another one who comes from a privileged family in Israel) also rebuked the emigrants (Hebrew) and called them ‘traitors’ on his Facebook page. Dayan too used anti-Semitism as part of his argument and said that he ‘despises’ those who go to live in Germany. Quite easy to say it when your monthly IDF pension is something that most couples in Israel don’t earn together in a month, and your salary as chair of Israel’s lottery, Mifal HaPayis, gives you NIS 5,555 per day, which is more than the minimum monthly salary.
What’s common to Lapid and Dayan is that both are out of touch with reality and the problems that many Israelis face. When you were fed with a golden spoon from an early age you can’t understand those who live below the breadline, or those middle class people who you pretend to speak for.
The Times of Israel this week published a story on brain-drain and the timing couldn’t have been better to remind everybody who celebrates Warshel’s achievement of a few uncomfortable facts: lack of funding in higher education, lack of funding for research, losing top minds to US and Europe. One has to ask why a professor like Arieh Warshel should do his research and live abroad? Where is the government of Israel and why don’t scientists get the funding they need for their research? There are many more like this professor who have to move abroad in order to have a career in their field and for whom there is no incentive in returning to Israel. Is the country ever going to change its priorities and stop the brain drain?
Since Mr. Lapid is a senior minister in the government, here are suggestions for how he can bring the ‘change’ he has promised since he came to power. Maybe as finance minister you will ensure that the government stop funding settlement expansions. Maybe you will significantly cut the inflated defense budget. Then, when you have those extra billions of shekels, you can start spending them on higher education, on job creation, and those scientists and bright minds won’t need to look for success overseas.
Most of the time it’s comfortable for the politicians to say these emigrants are ‘traitors who betrayed the Zionist idea,’ however when they win a Nobel Prize or making some other achievements, the very same politicians and many others take credit for these achievements because , after all, these are Israelis. I think that this in itself deserves a new Nobel Prize, in hypocrisy.