Good News Friday

It’s time for another Good News Friday installment.

From left to right, 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry winners Arieh Warshel, Michael Levitt and Martin Karplus

My first item for this week is the very exciting news that two out of the three 2013 Nobel Prize winners for chemistry are Israeli, and the third winner is Jewish.

Israeli professor Arieh Warshel on Wednesday won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, along with fellow Jewish professors Michael Levitt (who also holds Israeli citizenship) and Martin Karplus.

Warshel, 72, is a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he has been since the 1970s.

Fellow winner Michael Levitt, a South Africa-born professor, immigrated to Israel in 1979, married here and taught at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot for most of the 1980s. Vienna-born Martin Karplus fled the Nazi occupation of Austria as a child in 1938.

Of the 23 chemistry Nobels awarded in the past decade, 11 of the winners were Jewish and six of them were Israelis. But both Warshel and Levitt left Israel for the US because they felt they could not progress here — Warshel did not get tenure at the Weizmann Institute — underlining concerns about the ongoing brain drain of top Israeli academics.

The trio won the award “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced.

It is true that the brain drain from Israel is of great concern, and steps must be taken to counteract this dangerous phenomenon that could greatly affect Israel’s future and Israel’s security. However an article in Globes takes a counter-intuitive approach, stating that there isn’t really a brain drain:

It is natural that researchers with lofty goals will seek to achieve them in the most valued and best-networked places with the biggest budgets. The fact that Israeli universities have succeeded in retaining five Nobel laureates is proof of the opposite of a brain drain.

So is there or isn’t there a brain drain? According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, in 2011, 5% of Israeli academics had spent at least three years abroad. According to the Taub Institute, in 2007-08 (the worst years of the university budget crisis, which has since ameliorated) 29 lecturers from Israel were overseas for every 100 who stayed in the country. In comparison, 1.1 per 100 Japanese faculty members and 3.4 per 100 of French faculty members were in the US at that time.

Ministry of Science Chief Scientist Ehud Gazit told “Globes”, “Israel has no brain drain like in other countries. The example of Arieh Warshel is indicative: he wanted to stay here, he prefers Israel. If he had a post, he’d stay. A real brain drain occurs when educated people don’t want to live in the country, but many Israeli scientists actually want to come back.”

“Globes”: So what’s the problem?

Gazit: “We’re the country with the largest number of scientists per capita, but in terms of positions, we’re somewhere in the middle. That’s the problem. As a result, about 1,000 top faculty members in foreign universities are Israelis. Many of them would return if they had a job.”

It should not be forgotten that Israel attracts brains. Nobel Prize in Economics Laureate Robert Aumann was a German and an American before settling in Israel. Nobel Prize in Chemistry Laureate Avram Hershko was born in Hungary.


Scientists interested in returning to Israel are invited to seek the assistance of the Israel National Brain Gain Program, headed by Dr. Nurit Eyal, which helps people with BA and higher degrees find jobs.

Hmm. Food for thought at the very least. In any event, huge congratulations to the Nobel Prize winners, and as Herb Keinon says in the Jerusalem Post, let us kvell at their success:

Color me provincial, insular, ethnocentric or even shallow, but I’m bursting – just bursting – with pride over our Nobel Prize haul this week.

And when I say “our,” I’m thinking not only of Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt who won this country’s 11th and 12th Nobel Prizes on Wednesday. I also have in mind the four other Jewish prize winners this year, meaning that Jews have so far won six of the eight Nobels awarded for 2013.

And it isn’t over yet: On Monday the Nobel Committee will award its prize for economics, an award Jews have won about 40 percent of the time.


Schadenfreude is that German word coined to describe the feeling of joy at another’s downfall. Naches is the Yiddish opposite, joy at someone else’s accomplishment.

Oh, what naches did Wednesday bring.

And the naches grew as I started to put things in perspective: There are only 14 countries in the world that have more Nobel prizes than little Israel (though there are some 84 countries that have more Olympic medals than our seven). And the number of Jews among all Nobel Prize winners is simply staggering.

I think Mr. Keinon has put into words what very many of us are feeling right now. Once again, kol hakavod to the three prize-winners for their excellent research and discoveries.

My next item is not connected to prize-winning as such but relates to a non-official competition, one that Israel is winning. According to the International Monetary Fund, Israel’s economy is going to outpace all the other Western economies in 2014:

The Israeli economy is expected to grow by 3.8 percent in 2013 and 3.3% in 2014, the International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday. The fund’s economists pointed out that Israel’s economy was strong, stable and diverse.

The IMF’s outlook is similar to the that outlined by the Bank of Israel, according to which Israel’s economy will have grown by 3.6% by the end of 2013 and will grow by 3.4% in 2014. In any event, Israel’s economy will likely outpace all other Western economies throughout the entire period. The U.S. is expected to experience only 1.6% growth in 2013 and 2.6% in 2014. The eurozone is expected to grow by 0.4% this year, and by 1% in 2014.

Of course an international institution is probably constitutionally unable to praise Israel without condemning it for mistreating the Palestinians:

Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy shrank for the first time in a decade in the first half of 2013, the World Bank said, blaming a decline in foreign aid and myriad restrictions imposed by Israel.


The World Bank blamed the 0.1% economic contraction on a decline in foreign budget support to the aid-reliant Palestinian government, saying it exposed the “distorted nature” of the economy.

The IMF don’t analyse how much fault lies with the dearth of international aid – especially from those ever-loving brothers of the Palestinians, the oil-rich Arab nations – and how much with Israel. I suspect the former, and the IMF itself talks about the “distorted nature” of the Palestinian economy.

Nevertheless, the fact that Israel’s economy is faring so well at a time of global recession is outstanding in itself.  If you look at Israel’s history and remember the days of rationing and poverty in the 50s and 60s, and then the hyper-inflation of the 80s, Israel’s standing today is nothing short of a miracle.

Screen shot from Ari Lesser’s Boycott Israel video

My last item for today connects back in a way to the economy, the Nobel Prize winners and every other Israeli invention and  discovery. I’m talking about the BDS Brigade (some people have ruder epithets for these bigots), the people who want to boycott Israel for no reason other than that it is a Jewish country although they cover their antisemitism with pseudo-political reasoning.

A new pro-Israel advocacy group has brought out a highly entertaining and counter-intuitive video entitled simply “Boycott Israel” – although when you watch the video you will be surprised.  And despite the serious message you will also find it hard not to dance and clap along with the video :

As the Algemeiner article notes:

Darin Weiss founded Israel advocacy group Here is Israel earlier this year to combat the hostility facing the Jewish state on college campuses in North America.


One of his recent films, a music video, actually, features American Jewish rapper Ari Lesser. If the number of views is any indication, then Weiss appears to have hit the mark; in two days, the video has been viewed over 25,000 times on YouTube.


The song, ironically titled “Boycott Israel,” is written and performed by Lesser, as a cri de coeur, appealing to boycotters of Israel to continue to do so if they must, but to first become educated about the issues: “We’re not perfect, but if you think we’re the worst, first take a look at the rest of the Earth.”

Lesser raps about what he sees as the double standard among proponents of boycotting Israel who criticize the country while ignoring the crimes of all other nations, many of which have truly deplorable human rights conditions.

“I had seen Ari on YouTube and I was really taken by all his work, ” Weiss told The Algemeiner. “So, I contacted him and let him know we’re working on a new project, trying to help out Israel, trying to combat what’s going on on the college campuses with the beauty of Israel, instead of just going head to head with [anti-Israel activists] on campus. We thought what better way to prove that they’re telling a bunch of lies than to show the beauty of Israel and provide other educational tools.”

Lesser readily agreed and has two other songs in the works that will be released in the near future as music videos online.

“Many of our videos are just meant to show students the ‘beauty’ of Israel, the musicians, the artists, the citizens who want to live in peace,” Weiss says.

And then there are the other videos, such as “Boycott Israel,” that embrace the role of activist, not with a pedantic tone, but with an imploring one.

Kol hakavod to Darin Weiss for his initiative in establishing the Here is Israel advocacy group. And a huge kol hakavod to Ari Lesser for this brilliant song. I can’t get it out of my head.

May all this happy news help us enjoy a peaceful Shabbat.

Wishing everyone Shabbat Shalom!

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5 Responses to Good News Friday

  1. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Hmm…re the brain drain, the quoted counter-argument is a typical politician’s type of verbal sleight of hand. Natural scientists (in particular) everywhere will go abroad if they can’t get a position at home. That doesn’t mean that they prefer abroad, just that if they want to do their science and there aren’t any positions here (wherever ‘here’ is), then they will go there (wherever, etc). To argue that they’d prefer here is specious.

    All voluntary migrants emigrate because the opportunities aren’t available at home and this is whether were talking about Jews leaving Eastern Europe for the UK and the US between 1880 and 1914 (it wasn’t just pogroms they were escaping, but the lack of economic opportunity), or Indian graduates heading for the US & the UK in the 1960s onwards and so on.

    Gazit is blowing smoke, I’m sorry to say.

    • anneinpt says:

      I fear you’re right Brian, and as an academic you’re in a better position than me to judge. The problem is that Israel is such a small country that there can’t possibly be enough academic positions to go round. I don’t have a clue what the solution could be though.

      • Brian Goldfarb says:

        Nor, unfortunately, does anyone else! One also finds, for example, US academics heading for the UK or Australia (if they don’t have a second language) or elsewhere, if the offer is good enough.

        Unless the Israeli govt. (and its immediate predecessors) has severely cut funding in science (not made up by other income), then, ironically, Israel is a victim of its own success: an excess of science graduates over what both the research centres and business can absorb.

        Trouble is, if the number of under- & post-graduate places are cut, then this is self-defeating. Quite possibly it will be many of the better would-be students who will go elsewhere. I recall an exact contemporary of mine who, despite his top science grades and his place at Imperial College, London (then, as now, one of the top science schools in the world, not just the UK), decided to do History of Science as his BSc, because the failure rate at the end of Year 1 was high.

        Self-defeating for the future health of UK science.

  2. Donald Ellis says:

    Reblogged this on Peace and Conflict Politics and commented:
    Yea, boycott Isreal but watch this first.

  3. Pingback: Happy Channukah! | Anne's Opinions

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