Professor Ciechanover: “Speaking to those possessing academic degrees, I find garbled language, the lack of cultural depth, and ignorance when it comes to general history and the history of the Jewish people.”
Professor Aumann: “The problem is not with our neighbors, the problem is with us, with our impatience and the selfishness that developed within us. Our national agenda has been disrupted; the collective interest has been pushed to the margins in the face of personal interests.”
Professor Yisrael Aumann and Professor Aaron Ciechanover are Israeli scientists and Nobel Prize laureates. Yedioth Ahronoth’s weekend supplement brought them together for a talk on the degeneration and diminution of the Israeli spirit and leadership.
The conversation: A deep, painful, grim, and at times truly frightening talk, which leaves the listener with very little hope and plenty of unease.
The State of Israel, said the two professors – who subscribe to very different political views – is going in the wrong direction. It is being swept in the dark en route to a possible destruction. And not because of our external enemies, but rather, because of ourselves. Us and our leaders, or those pretending to be our leaders.
At some points during the conversation, while talking about Israel’s fate and the inability of its leaders, Ciechanover and Aumann sounded as if they are fighting back tears. Two eminent scientists fearing for the future of their country to the point of torment.
Fear for the future
Professor Ciechanover said: “There’s an educational deterioration at all levels. Even when speaking to those possessing academic degrees, I find garbled language, the lack of cultural depth, and ignorance when it comes to general history and the history of the Jewish people. We need institutions of higher learning headed by a leadership that pursues new paths, and this leadership has disappeared.
Where are the distinguished men of letters from the past? I see an intimate connection between the degeneration of the Israeli spirit and the degeneration of the country. Without developed humanities and Jewish studies, there will be no high-quality science of any kind in the State of Israel. Not physics, not chemistry, not mathematics, and not medicine.”
“The fact that the State of Israel did not become the largest global center for Jewish thinking and history is our largest cultural bankruptcy. If we don’t have here, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the world’s leading center for the study of Jewish history, this is proof we went bankrupt.
“What we see at universities is a symptom of a much more serious and all-encompassing disease, I would even call it a fatal disease: The depletion of spirit. This is a cancer that has spread through Israeli society, through all its body parts.”
The two did not show mercy to Israel’s government elite either. “They’re pathetic,” both agreed. Professor Ciechanover went into detail: “It’s truly pathetic that there’s not even one person there that conveys some kind of inspiration. There’s nobody you wish to talk to or whose ideas you want to hear.
To be honest, members of the government elite don’t even voice ideas. They lack direction or discourse, they don’t even have an agenda. They use all kinds of words – realignment, dismantlement – that are unclear and lack meaning. Empty of meaning. And at the center there is a soap bubble called the Kadima party.”
The politicians, according to both Nobel Prize laureates, tainted public life with their conduct. Prof. Ciechanover said: “We have leadership that always finds itself facing a moral question mark – the public faith in it has been completely lost. Of all national symbols, only the national anthem and flag are not under investigation by the attorney general or state comptroller.
All other symbols have been eaten up already. It is no wonder the nation’s internal cohesion is weakening. It’s not the external enemy that bothers me; we’ll find a cure for it through our technology and wisdom. I’m concerned by processes within Israeli society itself. They’re destructive.”
‘We cannot afford Selfish agenda’
Professor Aumann added his own criticism: “The problem is not with our neighbors, the problem is with us, with our impatience and the selfishness that developed within us. Our national agenda has been disrupted; the collective interest has been pushed to the margins in the face of personal interests.
The State of Israel in 2006 is something completely different than it was when I moved here in 1956, in the days of the Sinai Campaign. Today everyone worries about himself first. They only think of themselves. This may be good for a country like Switzerland, but it’s very bad for Israel. We cannot afford a selfish agenda.”
Prof. Ciechanover spoke with deep pain about the erosion of values: “My parents came to Israel as Jews from Poland,” he said, “because they wanted to establish a country where they’re not referred to as ‘zhids.’ A Jewish state where they can live a free life. They knew what they were striving for.
“Today, our internal cohesion is crumbling, the splits are tearing us on the inside. I grew up into clear values, and sadly I see around me their constant weakening. Today of all times we lost our objective and have nobody by the helm.
“I expect the prime minister and defense minister and all ministers to get up in the morning and ask themselves: After six months in power, what have we done to this country? Have we achieved even one objective we set for ourselves and our voters? This is the moral minimum required of them. I wonder, how can they live at peace with the failure they created with their own hands? But they have no shame because they don’t care. They don’t care about us.”
I asked whether we’re facing existential danger. Professor Chechnover: “I’m very very pessimistic. I fear for the very existence of the State of Israel. Everything here appears valueless, temporary, sort of like patchwork. If we don’t change, we won’t continue to exist. We’ll be erased from this place. ”
Prof. Aumann: “I, too, am very pessimistic and despaired. We lack now the desire to exist, we lack the patience to exist. We lack Zionism with a capital Z. We’ve become post-Zionists, the number one enemy of ourselves; yes, I don’t forget it’s all because of us. Just because of us. My people has simply gone mad.”
This conversation between the two Nobel Price laureates, our most eminent scientists, is over but not done with. They parted with a hug, and I saw tears at the corners of their eyes.