Nobel Prize sparks "brain drain" debate in Israel


* Two U.S. chemistry prize winners also Israeli

* Israeli schools find it hard to compete with U.S. pay

* Twelve Israelis have won the Nobel Prize

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM, Oct 10 (Reuters) - The Nobel Prize in chemistryhas stirred up national pride in Israel but also concern onThursday over a brain drain of some of its best and brightest touniversities in the United States.

Two of the three scientists who won the prize on Wednesdayhold Israeli citizenship, prompting Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu to phone in his congratulations - long distance.

Both men, Arieh Warshel of the University of SouthernCalifornia and Michael Levitt of Stanford University School ofMedicine, immigrated years ago to the United States afterscientific work in Israel and became Americans.

That set Israel, a small country of eight million peoplethat has seen 12 of its citizens take home a Nobel medal,talking about the ones that got away - scientists, doctors andother academics who have chosen to leave for foreign shores.

It's a real problem, a new study showed this week, even in aso-called "start-up nation" where homegrown talent has spawnedinnovative high-tech companies, some of them acquired formega-millions by industry leaders such as Apple and Google.

The Taub Center for Social Studies in Israel found theemigration rate of Israeli researchers has become the highestamong Western nations.

Citing statistics for 2008, it said there were 29 Israeliacademics working in U.S. universities for every 100 remainingin Israeli institutions of higher education.

The country that came in second to Israel on the list,Canada, had a ratio of 11.5 researchers in the United States perevery 100 back home.


"In fields such as economics, financing and marketing, hugesalary gaps have evolved and, as a result of that, more and moreIsraelis who work in those fields decide not to return home,"the study said.

Daniel Hershkowitz, president of Bar-Ilan University nearTel Aviv, said more than a third of computer science researchersat top U.S. universities are Israeli.

"I don't see Israel being able to compete with what theyoffer in the United States. We are talking about a vastlydifferent scale," he told Israel Radio.

Netanyahu's congratulatory phone calls to the two emigrantNobel winners came just days after his finance minister, YairLapid, publicly criticised Israelis who opt to live in Berlin.

Speaking Hebrew in a series of Israeli media interviews,Warshel, who was born on a kibbutz, or collective farm, andLevitt, a native of South Africa, alluded to the difficulties inclimbing the academic ladder in Israel.

Their wives, however, seemed bitter.

"Israel doesn't give a lot, and that's why people areleaving. This is a result of pettiness, small-mindedness andpeople who can't think big," Levitt's spouse, Rinat, told ArmyRadio. Warshel's wife, Tamar, said her husband didn't receivetenure in Israel, "and that's why we had to leave".

Israeli interviewers posed the formula question that isalways asked of compatriots who have chosen to emigrate from astate established as a refuge for the Jewish people: When areyou coming back, and not just for a visit?

The short answer was, not any time soon.

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