In the wake of the recent Muslim terror attacks in Paris, the issue of “brain drain” has gained a great deal of traction in the press. Many observers have postulated that as a result of the overt and blatant anti-Semitism exemplified by these attacks and others, which I discussed in my last blog, large numbers of Jews, French and others, do not feel safe and secure. In many European countries there are areas that are governed by Sharia law; some universities have become havens for anti-Semitism; and Paris has “no go” zones where even the police do not go. Many Jews feel they are being targeted and the government is unable or unwilling to protect them. They have had enough and will seek to emigrate to Israel where they will be accepted and treated fairly. “The Times of Israel” has reported that as many as 15,000 French Jews may make “Aliya” to Israel in 2015, a significant increase from the 7,000 in 2014. (At the same time, it should be noted that according to the Washington Post and Tablet Magazine, a sizeable number of Israeli academics have emigrated to the US. A recent study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel concluded that about 20% of them are now on the faculties of US universities. Interestingly, Berlin has been another popular destination. There are an estimated 17,000 Israelis living there at the present time.)
Jews in other European countries may follow suit. For many Jews these terror attacks are reminiscent of the pogroms of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the terror of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In those days, too many Jews were reluctant to leave their respective homelands, which was understandable, and soon it was too late. We all know what happened, and modern-day Jews do not want to make the same mistake.
Brain drain is not a new phenomenon, although the term, itself, was not coined until after WWII (generally attributed to the Royal Society in England). It refers to the emigration of well-educated, highly-motivated, intelligent individuals from one country to another. Typically, the motivations include better education or job opportunities, higher pay, better living conditions or to escape religious or political persecution. The old country suffers, and the new country benefits. Think of a see-saw. It is a zero-sum game. The pattern has been repeated many times throughout history. People with the means and motivation move from undeveloped, unstable, and/or repressive countries to developed, stable, and/or free and open ones. Picture a pyramid. The US, which offers the best combination of education, career opportunities, medical care, political stability, and other lifestyle benefits, would be at the very top. The next rung would consist of other industrialized Western countries, followed by underdeveloped, politically unstable and/or repressive countries. Sometimes, the émigré returns to his original country after a time. For example, someone who emigrates to the US to attend college or medical school may, for a variety of reasons, return to his original country at some point. This phenomenon is more like “brain circulation” rather than brain drain. It has been labeled the “boomerang effect.”
Below please find two of the many examples of brain drain throughout history. Often, Jews have been involved, and, generally, the “drained” country has suffered the consequences.
1. In 1492 Spain began expelling Jews and Moors. The Catholic monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, had just unified the country, and, basically, if you weren’t Catholic you were no longer welcome. You were either converted or were killed or expelled. The extensive loss of Jews damaged Spain’s financial system and economy significantly. Coincidentally or not, it has never recovered its former glory.
2. Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic policies in the 1930s caused many Jews with the means and motivation to emigrate, primarily to the US. Some of the more significant ones were Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, Theodore von Karman and John von Neumann. Why, you may ask, were these five so significant? They were all brilliant physicists, mathematicians, aerodynamic and aerospace engineers who played significant roles in the development of the atomic bomb. One can argue that if these men had been working on behalf of Germany, it would have developed the bomb, not us, and using it may have won them the war.
3. More recently, Iran and Syria have lost many Jews who emigrated to the US and Europe. Like I said, their loss is the US’s and Europe’s gain.
French Premier Francois Holland seems to be cognizant of the negative effects of brain drain. I believe he wants French Jews to stay in France. In a speech last week, he pledged to protect “all minority religions.” The supportive rhetoric is fine as far as it goes, but what actions, specifically, will the French government take? After all, Holland is cognizant of the power, influence and volatility of the significant Muslim population in France. Moreover, he is a socialist, and France is largely a free and open society.
It remains to be seen how effective the French government will be in protecting Jews prospectively. The first thing it must do is rein in the extremist Muslims in France. The “no-go” zones must go. How they have been allowed to exist boggles my mind.
I believe that most French Jews will wait and see how things play out. Actions always speak louder than words. When all is said and done, it’s nice to know that Jews have a safety net, if you will – Israel.