No Drainer–Why Doesn’t Israel Hire Foreign Brains?

Low salaries, high taxes, terrorism, not enough jobs–why, one wonders, do any college graduates stay in Israel at all? So why don’t Israeli colleges and high-tech firms do what their counterparts all over the rest of the world do? I mean hire non-Jews.

In the spring issue of Azure, Marla Braverman sums up Israel’s brain drain problems. She calls for free-market reforms in the higher education system to create greater incentives for academics to remain at Israeli universities, noting that faculty salaries here are very low compared to those in the U.S., and that collective wage agreements means that all profs get the same salary, no matter how much they and their field are in demand.

But even in the absence of wage agreements, could Israel’s universities–whose funding comes primarily from the public purse–afford to pay salaries competitive with those in the U.S.? Hardly likely.

In fact, Braverman acknowledges that money is only part of the story. Another part is cultural:

There is no doubt that today’s young Israelis, perhaps more than the citizens of any other country, need a good reason to commit to living in and sacrificing for the ongoing project that is the Jewish state. Unfortunately, today’s Israeli society is more cynical and individualistic than ever before; ideals like devotion to and sacrifice for one’s country have fallen out of fashion. Moreover, if the Zionist ethos, which sanctifies the individual’s obligation to the collective national endeavor, can be said to be in critical condition, then in Israeli academia-entrusted with the cultivation of the country’s best minds-it no longer has a pulse. For this to change, economic and structural reforms in institutions of higher education are not enough. Israel also, and more importantly, needs a comprehensive overhaul of the educational system, one that addresses its inability-or unwillingness-to instill in the younger generation those values which strengthen the connection between the individual, his people, and his homeland.

So, along with free market reforms, Braverman calls for a return to the Socialist-Zionist communal spirit that produced things like a public higher education system and collective wage agreements. In other words, we must be capitalist and global, and we must be socialist and insular. What’s a Zionist to do?

Pundits who moan about the brain drain never mention the other side of the issue. Academic institutions and high-tech firms around the world hire the best candidates they can find, regardless of race, religion, and nationality. And, increasingly, these candidates may come from other countries. But you’ll find hardly any Chinese or Indian researchers at Israeli universities beyond the grad student level, and precious few in its high-tech companies. Indeed, when Israeli universities go head-hunting to fill a faculty opening, they almost always look only for Jewish candidates.

Yes, we want to maintain a Jewish state. And not many foreigners are going to want to move to a country with Israel’s security, political, and economic problems. But a few dozen or hundred non-Jewish scholars could significantly boost the quality of our colleges while barely diluting the country’s Jewish majority. Furthermore, a more pluralistic academic world would be a less hidebound one, more open to innovation–including innovation in labor agreements.

Of course, Israel would have to figure out how to treat these profs’ families. Their non-Jewish children would grow up here as Hebrew-speakers, with an Israeli identity–yet, because they would not be Jewish, they’d be outsiders in the society. A dilemma–but one we’re facing already at the low end of the labor market, with foreign workers.

We’re draining brains because the Israeli meninges allow brains to flow only in one direction–out. It’s time to match the drain with a funnel that will bring new brains in.

2 thoughts on “No Drainer–Why Doesn’t Israel Hire Foreign Brains?”

  1. As you say, other countries have no problem hiring foreign academic staff. When France hires foreign profs, they also have to figure out how to treat their families. The profs’ non-French children would grow up there as French-speakers, with a French identity – yet, because they would not be French, they’d be outsiders in the society. Or would they??? Before complaining about luxury problems, have you asked yourself if that is the kind of society you want to live in?
    I’m not claiming other countries have no problems at all with integration of foreigners, of course we do. Open societies just don’t institutionalize these problems, as much as some right-wing populists may want to.

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