Israel, the Brain Repellent

Guy Rolnik
Guy Rolnik
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Guy Rolnik
Guy Rolnik

Israel isn't an attractive country for big brains, and it's getting less attractive with each passing day.

Hundreds and thousands of scientists, entrepreneurs, researchers and professionals abandoned Israel long ago, because it became a country where it was impossible for them to realize their potential. It stopped being a place where the exceptional could find a challenging, empowering, and inspirational environment, and so the exceptional went off in search of the lands where they could.

True, because of its small size and conflicts with its neighbors, Israel cannot really compete with the United States or the other large and developed countries in the West that attract the best minds and talent from around the world. Nothing is going to change the fact that the cream of the crop will always be able to fulfill their potential in America. And despite its severe financial and social problems, the U.S. is still the best place for the brightest brains, in every field across the board.

That being said, we must understand that if we don't make Israel more attractive for our very best minds, its long-term survival as an independent state will be at stake. The unique threats Israel faces are precisely what necessitates it being the best in the world in the fields of economics, science and society. Precisely because of its history, geography and regional politics, Israel have a better social, economic and political structure than bests those of every other country. And we are so very far from this being the case.

It's common to talk about how much more the academics, scientists and high-tech professionals earn abroad. In other countries, we always remind ourselves, they can make double, even triple, the salary. But money isn't the real reason they're leaving Israel. They leave because of the violence, because of the ugly politics, because of the dirt, because of the corruption, because of their children's deteriorating education system, because of the declining health system, because of the high cost of living. There is ugliness and corruption in Germany, France and the U.S. as well, but Israelis living there are less sensitive to it. It isn't their problem – and there are other, greater advantages. From their point of view, being in Israel and seeing all of this is intolerable.

So who's leaving? The majority of Israelis can't really go. If you've stayed in Israel until you're 30 or 40 years old, the chances you'll be able to reinvent yourself abroad become incredibly slim. Those leaving are the very young, or the ones in the most desirable professions. In short, those leaving are precisely those we need the most of all in order to create a prosperous, advanced and fair economy and society.

The Israeli narrative over the last decade was false. Everyone told themselves that this was a land of milk, honey, and high-tech – at a time when high-tech was really a bubble disconnected from the rest of the economy. We have a corrupt, monopolistic business sector, based on connections, friends-of-friends and a culture of nepotism. We have an ineffective public sector that doesn't focus on serving its citizens, comprised of empires of violent, powerful labor unions. We have an economic policy that revolves not around protecting all workers but on only protecting those in certain places of work. We have a stunted labor market that fails to encourage talent and excellence. We have a defense system whose expenses aren't connected to security threats. It guzzles billions of shekels that should be going toward improving the quality of life, lowering the cost of living and implementing reforms to strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector.

It's revolution time. It's time for the best minds in Israel, be they young or old, to come forward and work toward a radical restructuring of the economy, of our society and of our politics.

If these minds really are so brilliant, then they should have realized long ago that this work can't be left to the politicians and public servants. And if they have intellectual integrity, they should be devoted not just to their personal projects and research, but to creating a state, right here in Israel, that in 10 and 20 years will be continue to be fair, strong and prosperous.

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