David Brooks has written a pretty celebratory op-ed in the New York Times about Israel’s high-tech economy and its ability to weather the global financial crisis. I have mixed feelings about his pretty unqualified optimism. Yes, its great that Israel’s economy is growing and increasing overall wealth in the Jewish state. It is undoubtedly raising the quality of life for many Israelis.
What Brooks misses in large part, however, is the phenomenon of the Israeli brain drain. Brooks alludes to it in passing when he says “American Jews used to keep a foothold in Israel in case things got bad here. Now Israelis keep a foothold in the U.S.” The problem is real, though. So many entrepreneurial, creative, and brilliant Israelis, those who possess great leadership potential, are leaving Israel or going into the private sector. This has left many crucial jobs–teachers, university professors, and government officials–in the hands of individuals we might not characterize as the best and brightest. Israeli discontent with their choice of candidates in Knesset elections is largely attributed to the fact that those who do possess the skills have chosen to lead their lives abroad.
I think we can celebrate Israel’s accomplishments. After all, many of the dreams of the Zionist ideal have been fulfilled. Brooks gets it right when he says:
The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.
And they have, but the first sentence of this excerpt cannot be ignored. When Israel catches up politically to its economic achievements, it will be a cause for complete and total celebration.