Tova Herzl

If only there was a Nobel Prize for stupidity

Every fall our eyes turn north, to Stockholm, where for a week there is a daily announcement about the winners Nobel Prizes, and we again wait to see how many of our people won, so we can pat ourselves on our communal back. True, there are political considerations behind the Peace prize (awarded by Norway) and it is difficult to weigh literary achievements. But in fields based on data, the prize undoubtedly reflects human excellence.

And look, we Jews win a fifth of the prizes! And we are one only fifth of one percent of the world’s population! We win hundredfold more than our relative size! Such joy! What naches! The phenomenon is generally attributed to having been a persecuted minority which had to succeed in order to survive, and to the centrality of study – the very word “Torah” means teaching.

Then this clever nation established a country, which one would expect to be the very incarnation of our brilliance. But prizes and common sense are not identical, politics and formulae may be worlds apart.

The simplest formula is probably: one plus one equals two. But apparently not everywhere and not to everyone.

Thus, while the army is crying out for personnel, the Knesset last week decided to institutionalize ultra-orthodox exemptions. Well ok, in a democracy, elected office holders are entrusted with defining priorities and policy. But a few days later, our government decided to extend reserve duty. So wait, is there a need, or isn’t there a need? Remind me, how many are one plus one?

The prize in economics (officially not a Nobel) has even more Jewish laureates – about a third. So, how does the Jewish state conduct itself economically? Recently, a group of 130 top Israeli economists warned about the dire consequences of unequal burden sharing, as above. This comes on top of numerous warnings regarding continued support of the fast-growing ultra-orthodox sector with its deliberately limited education, resulting in weak employment, which will cause irreparable harm to the country’s ability to provide services. Harm? Damage? When the time comes, we will add one plus one. Until then, we will continue merrily and obliviously along.

While after a decade Business Insider recanted its 2011 story that Netanyahu is one of the world’s most brilliant people (“the story… does not meet Insider’s current editorial standards”), the conception is still widely held – we are led by a world-class genius. He faces the choice of preserving his coalition by means like “total victory” (which experts say is meaningless and hence unattainable) or being at the forefront of an international coalition against Iran, which poses an existential threat to Israel. On one side, short-term political gain, on the other, guaranteed long-term strategic investment in the country’s future. What does a genius leader decide? One plus one? Well, erm, actually…

Shall I continue? Mention ministers whose job it is to communicate with the world, and speak nothing but Hebrew? Or describe deliberate destruction of alliances in favor of a passing headline? Perhaps recall the provocative slogan directed at Arabs “sheyisaref lachem hakefar”, may your village burn, even as large swathes of our north are in flames?

On Monday, October 7th, the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences will announce the first of 2024 winners, in medicine. Perhaps this year we will find less time to focus on Jewish winners, as though we each won, personally. On that day, we will mark a year since the outbreak of the war, a year during which the government of the oh-so-clever Jews proved to the world, and to its helpless and overwhelmed citizens, that stupidity – which does not come with any awards – has no limits.

About the Author
Tova Herzl served twice as congressional liaison in Washington DC, was Israel's first ambassador to the newly independent Baltic states, and took early retirement after a tumultuous ambassadorship in South Africa. She is the author of the book, Madame Ambassador; Behind The Scenes With A Candid Israeli Diplomat.