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1986 Jul 7 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Speech receiving Honorary Degree from University of Tel Aviv

Document type: speeches
Document kind: Speech
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: MT spoke during a reception at No.10, 1830-2005.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1043
Themes: Conservatism, Education, Higher & further education, Foreign policy (Middle East), Society

Sir Leslie Porter, Professor Many, Professor Ben-Shaul, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.

First, may I thank you, Professor Many, as President of Tel Aviv University, for the very great honour which you and your colleagues do me in conferring this Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Thank you also for the kind and generous words with [end p1] which you accompanied it.

I first visited Tel Aviv University in 1972. It was kind of Leslie Porter to find a photograph which does not show too vividly how long ago that was!

Since then I have been a keen friend and supporter of the University as a patron of its Trust in the United Kingdom. [end p2]

That makes the pleasure of receiving this degree all the greater.

Indeed the honorary degree brings together two things which have a particular importance, a special place in my life: science and Israel.

Science, because that was my first academic field. And I know the outstanding international [end p3] reputation which Tel Aviv University enjoys in the Sciences.

Israel, because I have always had a deep and abiding admiration for the Jewish people and for what they have created in the modern state of Israel.

And I can say without any hesitation that my visit to Israel in April was one of the most exhilirating and most moving [end p4] experiences of my life.

It was of course a disappointment not to be able to go to Tel Aviv University itself to receive the degree during that visit. But I am delighted that so many distinguished friends and supporters of the University have been able to come here to No. 10 Downing Street for this ceremony. [end p5]

Not only do you, the Jewish community of Britain, make an outstanding contribution to the life of this country by providing leadership and inspiration in every field. You also work tirelessly for Israel itself: its universities, its schools, its hospitals, its communities such as Ashkelon, which I was able to see for myself during my recent visit. [end p6]

You were kind enough, Professor Many, to quote from the Book of Proverbs, that famous reference to the price of a good woman being above rubies.

As far as my Denis Thatcherhusband is concerned, it seems to be above, sapphires, amethysts, and quite a lot else besides!

And there is of course another reference, this time in the Book of Job, which sets the price [end p7] of wisdom above rubies.

And it is perhaps on that which a newly honoured doctor of philosophy should reflect.

Jewish philosophy, Wisdom is the first and favourite of God's creations.

And respect for wisdom has been a key to your religion and your history. [end p8]

But it has never been wisdom for its own sake.

That has been more a feature of the Asian civilisations and the European academic tradition,

where it has led—damagingly in my view—to the distancing of wisdom, of philosophy, of academic life from the real, everyday world.

I recall the story of the discussion in a senior [end p9] common room of an Oxford college about where to invest the college funds.

The Bursar proposed that they should be invested in land.

It had, after all, he pointed out, been a sound investment for the last thousand years. His colleagues nodded agreement—all except the history don.

“You have to remember” he said “that the last thousand years have been quite [end p10] exceptional” .

Or again one thinks of the distinguished French Ambassador who recently asked a senior member of the Chinese Government what he thought about the effects of the French Revolution, and received the reply that it was a little early to tell.

I must assure you that as a newly appointed Doctor [end p11] of Philosophy I do not intend to retire to an Ivory Tower.

Or devote the rest of my life to some learned treatise on Thatcherism.

Or indeed any other ‘ism’.

They so quickly become ‘wasms’.

I have always believed, in the words of a distinguished British scientist and [end p12] philosopher, Thomas Huxley, that “the great end of life is not knowledge but action” .

Education, learning, qualifications all prepare us. But it must be preparation for something, for action which advances—even if only in some small way—our family, our community, our society, our country. [end p13]

That is what I admire so much about Israel and the Jewish people.

You have not been content to sit back and contemplate.

You have shown the determination to realise your dreams.

Indeed Chaim Weizmann was waiting outside the Cabinet Room door downstairs to receive the [end p14] Balfour Declaration the second the Cabinet approved it.

You settled your land, you pioneered, you created fertile land out of the desert as I saw at Side Boker.

You have never rested but always created, always striven, always given to the community as well as drawn from it. [end p15]

One saw it in the marvellous energy and enthusiasm of the young Mayor of Ashkelon.

One sees it in the work of Tel Aviv university, for instance in cereals crop improvement, the benefits of whose work have been made available throughout the developing countries.

That is an approach which I admire and respect.

And it is an approach which I have tried [end p16] to instil here in Britain.

Our European societies were becoming enervated and dependent on subsidies and hand-outs. And better at producing thinkers rather than doers.

The successful societies are those like the United States and Israel whose people are self-selected and self-motivated, who show [end p17] enterprise, initiative and vigour—in Israel's case in the face of almost overwhelming odds.

Now I believe the mood is beginning to change here.

But it still needs constant effort, encouragement and exhortation.

That is why it has such special meaning for me to receive an honorary degree from Israel's [end p18] greatest university.

It is not just an honour, though undoubtedly it is one.

It is a recognition of an approach to life, a belief that one must always press forward to change and to improve, to realise the ideals and convictions that one holds.

It is this which underlies the special affinity which I have always felt for [end p19] Israel.

It is the reason I have always been proud to be a friend of Israel.

It is why this honorary degree means so much to me.

It is why I thank you for acknowledging what I have tried to achieve—and will go on trying to achieve so long as I remain in government.