It’s late in the evening, and the lights are on in the Aumann household. Professor Yisrael (Robert) Aumann, Nobel laureate in economics, sits at the table with a student, a young doctor from Haifa’s Technion. They are studying a mathematical problem, and the paper in front of them has equations scribbled all over it. Such is life for a rabbi (“I’m a young man of 83,” he tells me) and his student on a cool, clear Jerusalem night.
But around them, the storm rages. Europe issued guidelines that seek to cut the Israeli academic world off from any relationship with Israel’s heartland: Samaria, Judea and east Jerusalem. Even the Golan Heights. No financial grants will be given to Israeli scientists who have any connection with Israel over the Green Line. While the guidelines are still preliminary and the agreement has not yet been signed, the outcry of Israeli academia is being heard in the corridors of government.
The conflict between Israel and Europe has new manifestations and episodes. Quite a few powers are stirring the political pot; some of them hope for a buildup of European pressure to the point of a general boycott that will force Israel to give up the country’s heartland. As one of the world’s foremost experts on game theory, Aumann has a position on the issue both in terms of his behavior during these conflicts and as a high-ranking member of the scientific community in Israel and worldwide. Not surprisingly, his stance is different from the voices we’ve been hearing this week.
Is Israel’s scientific research dependent on Europe?
“Israeli scientific research isn’t dependent on Europe. Still, scientific cooperation with Europe, and mainly with the United States, is an important factor. But that’s scientific cooperation; we’re not getting any money from the Europeans. Incidentally, cooperation isn’t important just to us, but to them too.”
What’s your suggestion for Israel?
“If the agreement is written according to the guidelines that were reported, I suggest we don’t sign it. That could also lead to a softening of the agreement. From the perspective of game theory, when you threaten someone, you have to be ready to carry out the threat. One should never make an empty threat. That happens too often here. There’s too much talk and little action. When you threaten not to sign, you have to be ready not to sign.”
So we shouldn’t sign?
“I don’t think it’s so awful if there’s no such agreement. I don’t think it will harm cooperation with Europe any more than what’s already happening anyway. Today there are Europeans who aren’t willing to cooperate with us even with European financial support. Financial support isn’t scientific cooperation. They’re two different things. There’s some connection between them, but in my opinion it’s fairly weak. The European left wing could definitely say they’re not willing to cooperate even if the governments of the EU states provide financial support.
What do you think of what’s called “Jewish genius”?
“There’s something wonderful about the Jewish people. Biology and genetics are part of it, but part of it has to do with the supreme value in the Jewish religion: Torah study. Not just any kind of study, but the study of Torah. ‘The study of Torah is equivalent to them [good deeds] all’ [Mishna Pe’ah 1:1]. The Jews took that value and applied it to ordinary learning as well, to pure curiosity, to intellectual work that didn’t necessary have to do with the Torah. That plays a role as well. It’s the sanctified value that passes from parent to child and from generation to generation.”
Read the full interview at ISRAEL HAYOM.