Promised Land Disenchantment
by Stephen Lendman
Many Israelis want out. Haaretz said “almost 40 percent of (them) are thinking of emigrating.” Recent polling said they’d leave if financially able.
Israeli governance combines militarism, repression, corruption, and neoliberal harshness.
It’s no fit place to live in. Many Jews vote with their feet and leave. Others prepare by securing foreign passports.
Many of Israel’s best and brightest go. In 2012, over 14% of Israeli science and engineering doctorate holders lived abroad for three or more years. They left to work or study.
They’re in no rush to return. Many never do. It’s hard getting them back once they’re gone.
One of the most commonly given reasons for leaving isn’t why they left. It’s why it took them so long to do so.
At the same time, with so many of Israel’s best and brightest leaving, why would their counterparts abroad consider immigrating?
On October 8, Haaretz headlined “Israel has worst rate of brain drain in West, study shows.” It cited a Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel report.
It’s titled the “State of the Nation Report 2013.” A press release cited Israel’s deteriorating higher education system. In part it said:
“The country’s top universities have fewer senior faculty positions today than they did four decades ago.
“Since 1973, the number of students per professor has more than doubled.”
“The universities have moved away from employment of higher costing academic researchers and have increasingly outsourced the teaching to non-research, external lecturers.”
“Israel’s academic brain drain to the United States is unparalleled, with 29 Israeli scholars in the US for every 100 remaining at home in 2008 (the most recent data available), an increase from the 25 per 100 in the US just four years earlier.”
“This is several orders of magnitude more than the 1.1 Japanese or the 3.4 French scholars for each 100 remaining in their respective home countries.”
The emigration rate of Israeli researchers is the highest among Western countries. In the past 40 years, education spending per student dropped sharply.
In 1979, it was NIS 82,000 per student. In 2011, it was 26,500. Since then, funding increased. According to Taub Center executive director Dan Ben-David, amounts spent were far too little. Comprehensive change is lacking.
After establishing world-class research universities, “Israel underwent a dramatic about-face,” said Ben-David.
“Over the course of the last four decades, the place of research universities has consistently fallen lower down the priority scale,” he added.
The years between 2002 and 2010 fared worst of all. The prevalent academia view calls it “the lost decade.” Ben-David considers the post-1970 period the lost four decades.
In 1973, every 100,000 Israelis included 131 senior faculty members. In 2011, it was 62. It represents a 53% decline.
Over the same period, student numbers pursuing higher education rose over 400%. Teaching staff increased 40%.
Last April, Haaretz headlined “Putting a lid on Israel’s brain drain.”
Worldwide technology companies demand top highly skilled engineers. They need other professionals. It prompts many qualified Israelis to pull up stakes and leave.
Eynet Guez heads Relocation Jobs. It’s an Israeli-based firm. It provides “global relocation” and headhunting services.
“It’s a bit sad, but these days we are seeing greater adventurism than in the past, due mainly to a feeling of despair and pessimism about what is happening in Israel,” said Guez.
“In the past, people were less open to innovation and daring, because they believed they had options for getting ahead locally.”
According to survey results her firm conducted, the number of high-skill/high-salaried professionals looking to improve their quality of life increased significantly.
They’re leaving with or without higher pay. Quality of life matters more for some. Most don’t come back.
On October 14, Jerusalem Post editors discussed the issue. Easy solutions are lacking, they said. IDF elite Talpiot Program graduates head for Silicon Valley. Some run high-tech Boston companies.
Reports surface about US hi-tech firms buying Israeli start-ups. They take their technology and skilled professionals to America.
“The latest public debate” came after three Jewish scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Ariel Warshel and Michael Levitt are Israelis. They all work in America.
They hold dual citizenships. Ben-David warned for years about the “catastrophic consequences” of the “hemorrhaging of leading minds.”
Nearly a decade ago, science and technology minister Matan Vilna’i established a program. It encouraged outstanding Israeli scientists and researchers studying abroad to return home.
Nurit Eyal heads the Israel National Brain Gain Program. He’s working to encourage Israeli emigres to come back.
He offers help finding employment. He’s in direct contact with Israeli companies looking to hire. He says Israelis with one or more scientific degrees “can be absorbed in industry, medicine and research institutions or academics.”
Hebrew University president Menahem Ben-Sasson urges government to provide more university funding. So does Ben-David. According to the Jerusalem Post (JP):
“(W)hile these are worthy initiatives that might convince talented Israelis to stay put, underlying trends and the Jews’ penchant for wandering seem to mitigate against easy solutions.”
Years earlier, emigration was considered unpatriotic. Today it’s a legitimate upward mobility option.
A recent Geocartography Knowledge Group survey found 48% of Israelis saying they’d rather live elsewhere. They wish they were born abroad.
Security, weather, physical surroundings and other issues were cited. “(W)andering seems to be in Jews DNA,” said JP.
Throughout most Jewish history, “they existed as a people without a physical homeland. No government policy will change this.”
In October, Israel’s Channel 10 aired a series titled “The New Emigrants.” Former IDF chief of staff Uzi Dayan said:
“Those who emigrate from Israel will forever be seen as a betrayal to the Zionist idea. Let us bring the Jewish nation back to their birthplace.”
“Those who leave to go to Germany disgust me.” More on German emigration below.
“To the Israelis who justify their emigration because of material reasons, I must remind you of anti-Semitic contention, that the Jews’ homeland is wherever they feel good. Zionism contends that the only good place for the Jews is their homeland.”
At the same time, Dayan acknowledged “plenty to fix in our country, but it should be corrected in our country.”
“Every person has the right to choose where to live, just as I have the right to speak my mind about it,” he added.
Talmudic and other teaching forbids Jewish homeland emigration. Zionist ideologues abhor the idea. More recently, criticizing emigres is less common.
Around 20,000 or more live in Germany. Berlin resident Tal Alon said she started Hebrew magazine Spitz in 2012. She did so because “exciting things” are happening there.
Thousands of Jews live in Berlin. Alon “moved for the experience, the adventure, to satisfy the will to broaden (her) horizons,” she said.
She established Spitz to connect with local German and Israeli communities. It aims to “serve as a bridge for Hebrew speakers in the Berlin landscape.”
Spitz means sharp tip. “It’s a word that moved from German – and some claim Yiddish – to Hebrew,” said Alon.
Financing and producing revenue is hard. Dozens of contributors haven’t been paid. Currently around 250 subscribers get Spitiz free. Hundreds of copies are distributed throughout the city.
Many Israelis come to Berlin for similar reasons. It’s multi-cultural. It’s a magnet for young artists, musicians and writers.
It’s easy for Israelis to get second passports. With it, they can live anywhere in Europe.
Around 100,000 Israelis hold German passports. Thousands apply annually for German citizenship. Germany attracts Jews because it’s government wants to make amends.
It’s an international city. Jews have deep roots in Germany. Post-war Jewish population was around 30,000. After Soviet Russia dissolved, over 200,000 emigrated.
In 2004, more former Soviet Jews went to Germany than Israel. Many fewer emigrate now. Israelis keep coming. Ex-pats call it a good place to raise children.
On October 10, New Yorker contributor Ruth Margalit headlined “The Real Reason for Israel’s Brain Drain,” saying:
Over “half a million Israelis” live abroad. Most reside in America or Canada. More recently, many emigrated to Europe. Germany is a favored destination.
Ex-pats “tend to be young and educated, in search of graduate degrees or better-paying jobs. Their reasons for leaving are largely financial or educational.”
Most stay. Some return. Israel is increasingly unaffordable. One ex-pat said his parents came out of retirement to help.”
A recent Calcalist financial publication survey found 87% of Israelis over aged 25 dependent on parents for support. It’s not a luxury. It’s necessary to meet expenses.
Calcalist interviewed an unnamed 40-year old Israeli engineer. His wife works. They have four young children.
They need both sets of parents for help. They can’t make ends meet on their own. Nor can many other Israelis.
“I went to the army,” the engineer said. “I pay my taxes. I feel like I’m doing everything right. It’s really frustrating. I just can’t see us managing on our own.”
Promised land hype is more illusion than reality. Many Israelis give up and leave.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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