Last week, Israel became a candidate for full membership in the European research center CERN, the world's most important facility for particle physics. "This is a great achievement for Israel that will advance science," President Shimon Peres said.
This is a good time to examine the government's approach to science and ask, without taking anything away from the recognition of Israeli scientists by an important international organization, whether the state is doing enough to guarantee a future for scientific research in Israel. Sadly, the answer is no. Israel today is picking the late fruit of past investments in scientific education and is neglecting the future for short-term political considerations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is aware of the vital importance of a vibrant, prosperous scientific community for Israel's development and growth. His government is supporting a project to bring home Israeli scientists living and working abroad, while weakening the public universities, which Netanyahu sees as greenhouses of his political opponents on the left. This also seems to be the reason the government is encouraging the return of scientists, but not of scholars in the humanities or social sciences, where Netanyahu sees the faculty as more "radical."
The political interventionism is more damaging when the ultra-Orthodox are concerned. The government is expected to approve a number of resolutions today that will make permanent the isolation of ultra-Orthodox society, including the rampant evading of military service. Instead of compelling the ultra-Orthodox, whose percentages in the education system are steadily growing, to study the core subjects including mathematics and English, Netanyahu dooms yeshiva students to income support, leaving them in the narrow world of yeshiva studies and keeping them out of the job market.
The stark warning by the Technion's president on the collapse of scientific education, published by Haaretz last week, failed to wake up Netanyahu. Instead of leading a national plan for education focused on ensuring core studies for all children, the prime minister prefers to keep the ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition and strengthen religious studies. For Netanyahu, in the great contest between science and politics, politics trumps science.
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