The awarding of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry to kibbutz-born Israeli-American professor Arieh Warshel (as well as to his colleagues Mike Levitt and Martin Karplus) is a sweet-and-sour occasion, joyous but also casting a pall. From the moment we heard the names of the winners, we started hearing the same kind of proclamations made during the time of King Herod Agrippas: "You are our brother, you are our brother," a slogan that implied feelings of guilt and inferiority and sounded out of a profound desire to re-seize Israel.
Certainly, Warshel's early days at the Technion and the Weizmann Institute rouse Israeli pride. But the crucial fact is that Warshel emigrated a few decades ago. Israeli science lost his contributions for the next generations. So the elation associated with the "his achievement, our achievement" attitude is somewhat disconcerting.
A scientist's decision to stay in Israel is determined by certain criteria, measurable values that would preclude his or her leaving. The researcher needs, first and foremost, a viable work environment that gives him or her the space to dream, to ponder, and to pursue his or her ideas to fulfilment.
This aspect, part of the vital welfare of Israel's scientific community, has suffered for many years from neglect, both in Warshel's scientific field and in the overall level of priority given to academic institutions. We are seriously in need of expanding employment in our scientific institutions. Although government support of academia has started to improve, we still have not marked the necessary funds to close the gaps. This Nobel Prize winner is one of the victims.
Preventing emigration requires an effective braking mechanism from homes and schools. Parents and schools are no longer rejecting the emigration from Israel of the past. They've stopped playing "Come home, Yonatan," a popular Israeli song.
What we need is an exciting educational figure to rebuild the dam, an individual who can combat teacher and parent apathy. Conversely, in the public debate between Finance Minister Yair Lapid and others, it turns out that there are media outlets glorifying emigration, or at least resisting the urge to participate in efforts to make it stop. Their dictionary does not include the word "yerida" ("descent," the Hebrew word traditionally used for emigration from Israel), it just contains the neutral word "emigration." A "yored" (someone who does "yerida") is, in their book, only an "Israeli who lives abroad."
The problem disturbs any Israeli whose mind is open to the issue. Taxpayers have the right to proof that the government is doing everything in its power to stem emigration and find solutions for this academic plight. The Western world is replete with excellent researchers and fine citizens, but the Jewish state is losing out.
Emigration has become a state epidemic. It is possible that nothing could have prevented Warshel or others from leaving. There was no scientific horizon, and Jewish roots alone would not have been sufficient to keep him here. The issue is not unique to him. A whole public has left its country and homeland. Hundreds of thousands were sent abroad for science and were lost to Israel. The damage is unimaginable -- scientific, economic, nationalistic and moral. The name of this game is money and education, persuasion and delegitimization.
Israel needs to carefully consider every rejection it gives to bright-eyed young scientists who ask to be accepted to its institutions. As well as losing them to emigration, the state has suffered in any event from students leaving the sciences for law or business administration.
On a day like this, we should not need to raise this public issue at the expense of our happiness at the success of this individual, who went overseas and in that way brought kudos to his scientific origins in Haifa and Rehovot.