Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Weizmann Institute’s 50th Anniversary Dinner

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Savoy Hotel, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Dinner was at 1945 for 2030. The text was embargoed until 2130 when MT was expected to speak.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1645
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Foreign policy (Middle East), Leadership, Science & technology

Mr. Chairman, Your Excellency, Immanuel JakobovitsChief Rabbi, Members of the Weizmann Institute Family, Professor Sela, Mr. Sieff, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Professor Sela—may I thank you most warmly for presenting to me the velum which inaugurates the Chair which bears my name.

May I thank you, Mr. Sieff, for introducing me so wonderfully.

Now, following as I do, Lord Rothschild and Lord Sieff, I begin to feel as if I am already speaking in the House of Lords.

That experience is for me a little premature and I hope will not be realised for a very long time.

Nevertheless, the quality of the speeches and the infinite courtesy which accompanies them is, you will understand, a refreshing experience for one who only speaks in the House of Commons. [end p1] I am most grateful to the Foundation for inviting me to attend this celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of an Institute of deserved fame and reputation, the creation of a great and remarkable man. And I am grateful too to receive the Weizmann award in sciences and Humanities with which you have just presented me.

Chaim Weizmann personified the close links between Britain and Israel. [end p2] In his autobiography he recalled that he decided to move to this country in 1904 even though he did not know our language and had few friends here, because of his ‘profound admiration’ for Britain. By one of those strange coincidences of history, his naturalisation papers were signed by Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary. And it was Winston Churchill who requested and received Dr Weizmann 's help as a scientist in both World Wars. By his work on the production of acetone he made an important contribution to Britain's defence. [end p3] His two sons saw active service in the second World War and the younger one was among the many brave young men who lost their lives serving with the RAF. Even when, after the war and the creation of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann became Israel's first President. His links with Britain were not severed for he retained his British nationality. And I am very proud of that. Both Britain and Israel have reason to be grateful to Chaim Weizmann and we are both proud to claim him as our own.

And I have always felt a particular affinity for Dr Weizmann as some-one who was both [end p4] scientist and politician. Believe you me, it is a rare combination to find in one and the same person. I happen to believe it would be better if there were more people like that—he was one of these very rare people.

In politics he is remembered as one of the pioneers of the State of Israel and as its first President. His election as President was seconded by David Ben Gurion who said, reflecting the views of many Jews around the world: “I doubt whether the Presidency is necessary to Dr. Weizmann but Dr. Weizmann is a moral necessity for the state of Israel.” And so he was. This moral authority helped to guide the new state in its vital first few years and establish Israel's reputation as a vibrant democracy. [end p5]

He is also recalled as a statesman who recognised the need to come to terms with Arab aspirations in Palestine. As early as 1923 he said: “Whatever the Jewish National Home will ultimately become, even if it absorbs millions of Jews and if, as I hope, there will be a Jewish majority in Palestine, it will nevertheless remain an island in an Arab sea. We have to come to an understanding with the people which is akin to us and with which we have lived in concord in the past” . [end p6]

Those were words of abiding wisdom. And they are very relevant today. Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon and the efforts being made by moderate Arab leaders to create the basis for direct negotiations with Israel hold out fresh hope that progress can be made towards a broader peace. When I was in Washington just a fortnight ago, President Reagan and I agreed that we would encourage those efforts—and I salute the personal courage of those Arab leaders who are undertaking them. I shall be discussing the way ahead when I see President Mubarak here in London in a few days time. [end p7]

Israel's right to exist in peace behind secure and defensible borders must be fully re-affirmed and acknowledged. We have never been in any doubt about that. It is very important that this opportunity should be grasped despite the many disappointments and setbacks of the past. It is not a question of pressing Israel to do anything against her interests but of urging her to match the vision of one of her greatest leaders in recognising the need to live in concord with the Arab people.

As a scientist, Weizmann recognised the contribution which technology could make to material prosperity.

This I am afraid has been said in one or two speeches already tonight, but if either members of the house of Lords or the House of commons or even, perhaps, chief rabbis were forbidden to repeat a good message, we should be hard put to it to make some speeches. So indeed I propose to repeat what has already been said about the institute and about Dr. Weizmann. [end p8] He knew that the land which is now Israel was poorly endowed with natural resources, and that it would need high standards of education and scientific research, and their application, if the country was to progress.

That is why the Weizmann Institute was founded. It was a unique experiment in scientific pioneering. It would subject itself to the disciplines of practical problems, rooted in the land and its economy. Yet it would not neglect pure science, the science which unlocks the unknown—the [end p9] science which has forever fascinated the mind of man.

Weizmann 's early work, with a small team of accomplished scientists, concentrated on farming—the citrus industry, dairy farming, silk and tobacco—and on the production of chemicals which were of medical value. From the beginning, Weizmann set the highest standards, and under his leadership Israel made the desert blossom as the rose.

The Institute too has blossomed. Today it has faculties of biology, biophysics [end p10] and biochemistry, mathematics, physics and—I am delighted to say—chemistry. It is a symbol of Israel's ability to play a leading role in the harnessing of science for humanity—not just in Israel, but throughout the world and especially among Israel's neighbours in the Middle east. The Institute has truly become—as Weizmann always envisaged—a cosmopolitan centre for research.

It is therefore a very special honour for me to have my name associated with the foundation of a new Professional Chair of Chemistry at the Institute. [end p11] I congratulate Professor Lahav, its first incumbent, on his appointment. He is one of Israel's outstanding chemists, and his work on the optical structure of organic molecules holds a special fascination for me, and there is a particular reason for that, the full significance of which I only learned this evening. When I was at Oxford and I once took an ordinary degree there that you have to get by effort and that no-one can take away from one. When I had very happy times at Oxford, I did my own research degree under Prof. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin. She elucidated with using X-ray crystalography the structure of penicillin which was absolutely vital at that time because we had to synthesise it and also later the structure of insulin. She was my tutor and I was privileged to work with her and we chose for the subject of my thesis the structure of what we thought was one of the simplest proteins. It is a protein called Gramicidin S. I was to work with one of her main research assistants. The name of that research assistant was Gerhard Schmidt. We worked together on Gramicidin S but after I had completed my thesis I left Oxford and the work of Gramicidin S continued. [end p12] I did not see Gerhard Schmidt again until some fifteen years later when I went to visit the Weizmann institute. I walked through the laboratories and there I met Gerhard Schmidt who had completed the structure on gramicidin s which had turned out to be much more complicated that we first thought. He was at the Weizmann Institute. He also had a distinguished pupil. The name of that pupil was Professor Lahav who is the first incumbent of this chair this evening. It is a remarkable co-incidence of circumstance and it gives my just enormous extra pleasure and really heightened interest in the work which prof Lahav will do in the future. Alas Gerhard Schmidt is no longer with us, But his work on that particular protein will live on.

The Techniques which Professor Lahav has developed give us a new insight into the processes by which life has evolved on earth—and at the same time they have immediate practical application in industry, especially in the [end p13] preparation of new drugs and food additives. For those of you who would like to know more, I commend the Centenary Lecture which Professor Lahav will be giving to the Royal Society of Chemistry in London next month.

Mr. Chairman, I said a moment ago that Dr. Weizmann was both a scientist and a politician. To his science he brought not only his intellectual gifts but also a vivid understanding of how science could be used for the benefit of man. As a politician, he was a man of vision. He knew that democracy is more than a collection of pressure groups; that freedom [end p14] is more than freedom to argue our differences. He knew that both require a vision, a sense of purpose, and a dedication to that purpose in the service of others. His life was an example of all those qualities—that is why we salute him tonight.