Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Weizmann Institute Foundation Gala Dinner

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: London
Source: Thatcher Archive
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2078
Themes: Civil liberties, Defence (general), Public spending & borrowing, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Law & order, Science & technology, Defence (Gulf War, 1990-91)

Mr Chairman, Your Excellency, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.

First, may I echo your words in praise of Vivien Duffield for her tireless work for all good causes and, in particular, the Weizmann Institute. I am enormously honoured by the Weizmann Institute's decision to award me the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Honoris Causa - and all the more so because of the distinction of my fellow recipients. Tonight, the five people you honour come from many walks of life, showing clearly the unity of knowledge and understanding. May I mention, in particular, Isaiah Berlin who, for so many years and to such powerful effect, has applied his brilliant intellect to the defence of liberty. And let me mention too David Phillips who gave government so much sound advice on scientific matters. He and others are finding answers to problems we could not identify at the time the Weizmann Institute was born. As I read of the Institute's work on mathematics research, in particular the “one shot” organisation method of solving elusive problems, I recalled the words of Isaac Newton when asked how he had been able to achieve his discoveries. Newton replied: “By always intending my mind” . It is this kind of intense and rigorous commitment which unlocks the secrets of the universe. As has already been mentioned, this is the second occasion on which the Weizmann Institute has generously made me an award. Moreover, on the 50th Anniversary of your Institute you created a Margaret Thatcher Chair in Chemistry. I know that it is filled by a most worthy incumbent. Like the Founder of this Institute and first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, I have the good fortune to be a scientist by training and a politician by profession. So you can imagine how deeply I appreciate my continuing connection with the work of your Institute.

The Work of the Weizmann Institute

That work is important not only to Israel but to mankind. I have been fascinated to learn of some of the Weizmann Institute's current projects. There is the brain research which offers new hope for dealing with brain disease and brain damage: and the more we understand about the working of a human brain the more lessons we may be able to apply to the design of the next generation of (so-called) intelligent machines. Then there is the research into the possibilities of submicron semi-conductors - possibilities which already seem almost endless. And there is the continuing work on solar energy research, where the Weizmann Institute is an acknowledged world leader: you do not need me to stress the potential benefits if we succeed in providing a clean, safe, inexhaustible alternative - at reasonable cost - to fossil fuels. The work of the Institute also suggests three broader lessons. First, it shows the importance of basic science. Basic science can have colossal economic rewards: but these, by their very nature, are totally unpredictable. So the value of pure scientific research cannot be judged by immediate results.

Although no country has unlimited funds to spend on basic science any more than on anything else, this must remain a priority and be protected as far as possible against other demands which may be more immediately politically attractive. Second, the Weizmann Institute's success has been possible because of private donations, bequests and endowments. I have always been immensely impressed by the generosity of the Jewish community both in Britain and worldwide. Private charitable giving is the most practical expression of a wealthy community's sense of responsibility for all its members.

Third, the foundation and development of the Institute bear witness to the utter determination of Jewish people to make a success of the State of Israel. In the teeth of the hostility from some of Israel's neighbours, she has created a country in which not only the deserts but also democratic values bloom and flourish. We must continue to bear in mind Israel's historic sense of pride in her achievement - and also her sense of vulnerability.

Prospects for Peace in the Middle East

This naturally leads me to the Middle East Peace Conference which starts tomorrow in Madrid. The fact that this Conference is taking place at all is a tribute to the skill and persistence of Secretary of State James Baker. But it also reflects the changed atmosphere in the Middle East since Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War. On the one hand, nobody could fail to appreciate the maturity and self-restraint which Israel showed when she was under extreme provocation to retaliate. On the other, the demonstration that most Arab countries had almost as much to lose as Israel from lawless aggression by a fellow Arab state brought a new sense of realism and perspective to the Arab world. The historical background to the present disputes in the Middle East cannot simply be ignored or forgotten. This is the most fought over land in the history of the world. Israel has good reason to be concerned for her security and to distrust merely verbal assurances. Palestinians also have reason to fear Israel's intention while a policy of Jewish settlement continues on the West Bank. Both sides - Israeli and Arab - will find compromise difficult. But compromise will be necessary. All the peoples of the Middle East have a real common interest in peace and security. It is they - rather than we - who have to work out the terms on which they can live together. Agreements can and should, on occasion, be brokered by outsiders - but they cannot be imposed by them. The best hope for peace is that everyone will recognise that the instruments of modern warfare know no boundaries - and that a younger generation in all the countries concerned will realise that the settling of old hostilities is the way to prosperity and a better quality of life. At this crucial time for Israel and her neighbours I can do no better than to quote from a message sent by our former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, to the Prime Minister of Israel on the eve of the Camp David talks in 1978: “May we merit to see the good of Jerusalem and the fulfilment of biblical prophecy: 'And you shall dwell in your Land safely; and I will give peace in the Land” .

The New Internationalism

I have mentioned the impact of the Gulf War in creating conditions for a possible resolution of long standing problems in the Middle East.

But victory in the Gulf, achieved under American leadership and with support from both Western and Arab countries, and achieved under the moral authority of the United Nations, was only possible because of the West's earlier victory in the Cold War. The reforms begun under Mr Gorbachev which have now resulted in the toppling of Communism in the Soviet Union have radically reduced the danger of Communist backed dictatorships or insurgencies carrying on regional wars. This has transformed the prospects for achieving peace and prosperity in even the most traditionally unstable areas of the world. Who, a few years ago, could have imagined that we would see a settlement in Cambodia? Who could have dreamt that South Africa would be on the verge of true democracy? Who would have thought that peace and political freedom would so quickly come to Central and South America - and that only once-idolised Communist Cuba would be a last, isolated relic of an old regime? Who would have thought that so many thousands of Jewish people would be allowed to leave the USSR and that the problem was not so much to secure the necessary permission but to house and resettle them? Who would have thought that the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the USSR and China would have combined together to condemn Iraqi aggression and approve whatever measures might be necessary to reverse it?

Democracy and capitalism are advancing from continent to continent, country to country, although some are uncertain about how to bring about the necessary changes. So we are now considering anew what we expect of all our international organisations. In some cases, we are trying to ensure that they fulfil the tasks they were originally founded to undertake - that is, above all, the case of the United Nations itself. In others, we are adapting international institutions to totally new circumstances - as, for example, with NATO. All this is right and necessary - and the victory of freedom over totalitarian Communism which made it possible (a victory in which Israel's own strength and determination played an honourable part) - is one of the great achievements of our age. But the danger now is that we might lose sight of the fundamental conditions which are required for security, prosperity and progress in the future.

First, we must keep our defences strong. When old empires, like that of the Soviet Union, break up there are always dangerous uncertainties. Moreover, the risk - sometimes the reality - of unstable regimes possessing weapons of mass destruction is ever present. We must never allow the potential aggressor to have superiority - or even equality - of military strength. And that means above all keeping up investment in new technology.

Second, we must be rigorous in upholding human rights. The whole notion of inalienable human rights which belong to Man as Man - rights which governments have no moral power to deny - is rooted in our Judaeo-Christian tradition.

The central importance of law as a means of civilising human behaviour is one of the most striking features of the books of the Bible which Jews and Christians have in common. But this law is not thought of as a law just made by Man: it is a law which is God's law, a law which cannot be abrogated, on which human authority must be based and by which human behaviour must ultimately be judged. It is on the concept of such a higher moral law which binds all of us, however powerful, however poor, that human rights are founded. So human rights have a moral and indeed a spiritual significance which must never be ignored. It is not enough for countries to sign high sounding documents on human rights: they must be held to account if they do not honour them. If the international community, particularly the United Nations, does not show that it is unshakeably committed to what is morally right its authority will be diminished and flouted.

I only need mention the tragic events now taking place in Croatia to illustrate that the world, and in particular Europe, is still capable of showing a chilling complacency when faced with the consequences of naked aggression. There, hard-line Communists and militarists are systematically seeking to destroy a nation and its culture - including some of Europe's priceless architectural heritage. Yet international institutions seem paralysed.

Third, there is a danger that our enthusiasm for international cooperation could lead some of us to adopt a naive and short-sighted supra-nationalism. True internationalism will always consist of cooperation between nations: that's what the word means. And of course, the United Nations which embodies the highest aspirations of internationalism, reminds us by its own name of its true purpose. As article I of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. ” This right - the right of peoples to develop and express their nationhood in freedom - is the counterpart of that other right which underpins our civilisation - the right of every human being to live in peace, security and freedom. National and human rights must both be upheld. For over the centuries it is nation states which alone have proved strong enough to defend the individual. And the only nations states which endure are those which fully recognise the rights of individuals and so win their loyalty.

An Example to the World

Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight I am among old friends. And you have said kind words which I shall long remember. As you know, I too am a friend of the Weizmann Institute, of Israel and of the Jewish people. You have given so much to the world - contributed so much talent, enterprise and creativity. And over the centuries, in which suffering and achievement have gone hand in hand, you have contributed something else - your example. Today, as always, the world needs to go back to the values which endure, which transcend to the vagaries of time, which are for ever contemporary. We need to pursue excellence at every level, in every walk of life. We need to encourage self-respect, self-reliance and a capacity for effort. We need to strengthen that sense of accountability for our talents and advantages which brings a sense of responsibility for others - and indeed for our planet. Above all, perhaps, we need example. And were I to search both heights and depths for an example of values for a better world, I think I would come to the Weizmann Institute - and to those who made possible by their generosity this splendid and memorable occasion tonight. Thank you for the honour you have done me.