I am intrigued by the quixotic campaign of Professor Dan Shechtman, the Nobel Prize-winning Technion scientist, in his bid to become Israel’s next president.
He doesn’t have a chance, of course. For decades, the presidency has been reserved for superannuated politicians so it’s more likely we’ll see a President Rivlin, Levy or Ben-Eliezer than President Shechtman.
But Shechtman’s candidacy raises the question of whether Israel affords enough opportunities to the brilliant men and women who wish to contribute to national life beyond the boundaries of their university or business.
Where are the openings for Israel’s several Nobel laureates to apply their fine minds to the major issues affecting the country? And in what forum will Shimon Peres be able to continue gracing public life when he finally steps down from the presidency this summer?
For several years, King Abdullah of Jordan and Elie Wiesel hosted a gathering of Nobel laureates from around the world – including Israel – at Petra. I witnessed one of these meetings. It was impressive. The greatest minds on the globe swapped ideas and inaugurated research on such issues as poverty, education, the environment, scientific cooperation and the advancement of peace in formal and informal sessions, creating new initiatives and throwing out new policy ideas.
Watching the Israeli Nobel laureates in Petra, I wondered when I might see them speak in public once they returned home. The answer: very rarely.
That’s a shame because they have a lot to offer. Shechtman, for example, is much more than an anonymous laboratory rat who single-handedly discovered the scientifically astounding but practically worthless quasi-crystal. Years before he won his own Nobel, Shechtman initiated the translation into Hebrew and distribution of thousands of educational posters on the annual Nobel prizewinners’ discoveries that he voluntarily packed and posted to schools and colleges throughout Israel with the help of his students.
Nearly 30 years ago, Shechtman started a class in Technological Entrepreneurship at the Technion which has now been attended by more than 10,000 students. You only have to look at the involvement of Technion graduates in Israel’s high tech successes to see that Shechtman may well be the godfather of the Start-Up Nation.
So just imagine if Shechtman, Peres and Israel’s other leading lights had a public forum where they could meet regularly to discuss pressing issues, share their wisdom with the rest of us, and perhaps introduce a more measured and intelligent tone to the country’s public debates.
There is a place in Britain where brilliant public leaders, professors, business people and community activists are appointed to weigh in on great matters of state. It’s called the House of Lords. Perhaps it’s time there was something like it in Jerusalem.