Despite its image of promoting boycotts of Israeli academic institutions – which
have never actually been carried out – the United Kingdom and its new ambassador
to Israel, Matthew Gould, have inaugurated a council of the two countries’
leading scientists to promote joint research projects.
The 21-member Life
Sciences Council is co-chaired by Gould, eminent University of Oxford biochemist
Prof. Raymond Dwek and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev President Prof. Rivka
Carmi, who is a leading pediatrician and geneticist. Twelve of the members are
British and the rest Israeli.
Four council members, including Prof. Aaron
Ciechanover of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and
Prof. Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, are
Nobel Prize laureates.
Meeting Tuesday at the Israel Academy of Sciences
and Humanities in Jerusalem, the council members decided that the first focus of
research would be regenerative medical therapies – including the use of stem
cells to treat or cure disease.
Gould set a target of £10 million
sterling over the next five years for investment in the research, and said at
the meeting that he had already received commitments from donors, including the
Pears Foundation and the Zabludowicz Trust.
The inaugural meeting was
hosted by academy president Prof. Ruth Arnon, a worldrenowned expert in
immunology at the Weizmann Institute.
Among the British council members
are Lord Robert Winston, an expert in IVF and fertility treatments and one of
Britain’s best-known scientific names; Prof. Lorna Casselton, foreign secretary
and vice president of the Royal Society; Sir Adrian Smith, director-general for
knowledge and innovation at the department for business, innovation and skills;
and Sir Richard Sykes, former chairman of the major pharmaceutical company
The council’s establishment was announced by British
Foreign Secretary William Hague during his November visit to
Dwek, who is a voluntary adviser to Carmi at BGU and a frequent
visitor to Israel, told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview during a
break in the sessions that “Israel is a fantastic scientific partner for any
Why not have the best? You have a lot to offer and will continue
to do much to benefit mankind. At the same time as both countries benefit, we
want to improve UK-Israel relationships.”
Gould added that “the UK and
Israel are both global superpowers when it comes to science and research. We
both have disproportionate numbers of Nobel Prize winners and are home to some
of the most important, groundbreaking research. So it makes sense that our
scientific communities should work closely together.”
He added that “it
also sends a powerful and positive signal about how our countries see each
other, and about the sort of relationship we want between us. The British
government is opposed to boycotts of Israel, and this council is an expression
In raising the £10m., the council will be directing an
ambitious expansion of the BIRAX program, which funds collaboration between
British and Israeli scientists and which recently announced the 10 recipients of
its second round of funding.
Meanwhile, in another example of UK-Israel
cooperation, it was announced on Tuesday that next month, 16 young Israeli
surgeons will travel to London and Basingstoke to study firsthand the pioneering
operation described by Prof. Bill Heald for the treatment of low rectal cancer,
known as total mesenteric excision (TME).
Prof. Alex Deutsch, chairman of
the David Yanir Foundation for the Advancement of Colorectal Surgery in Israel,
is organizing this trip for the third successive year.
“This procedure is
now performed here by some surgeons, but our doctors are learning it at the
source,” he explained. “They will also watch colorectal surgery being performed
at three leading London hospitals.”
The visits are supported by the
Kennedy-Leigh Charitable Trust, the Nassan Foundation and the John Forman Fund
of the Israel Britain Commonwealth Association.
While in England, the
group will be guests at a reception in their honor organized by the Jewish
Medical Society of the UK, to which 700 doctors have been invited.
interview with Prof. Raymond Dwek about Israeli-British cooperation and his
medical research will appear on the Health Page on Sunday, February 6.