Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls joined a British Friends of Haifa University dinner on Monday to salute the educational philanthropy of Gerald Ronson, particularly his project to reverse the brain drain from Israel.
The Ronson Science Pavilion at the northern university has already brought back scientists who had left Israel to further their studies abroad in fields ranging from cancer research to anti-ageing therapy.
Mr Ronson received Haifa University’s Carmel Award of Merit at the function, attended by 200 guests at Claridge’s in central London. The dinner, which raised £250,000, also celebrated the university’s 40th anniversary.
Declaring his support for the “campaign to tackle the brain drain”, Mr Balls said Mr Ronson had made a “massive difference” through his educational investment, which includes the Jewish Community Secondary School in Barnet and a school for the Druze community in northern Israel. “Children and young people for decades to come will be grateful for your contribution.”
Mr Balls also backed the strengthening of ties between UK and Israeli universities. “There are people in our country who will talk of boycotts, who will seek to divide, to isolate, sometimes even to deny the right of the state of Israel to exist,” he said.
But there were a good many MPs “determined to work together with you to defend the state of Israel… confident we can achieve peace and prosperity across the region by supporting and celebrating the great achievements of the state of Israel and your university”.
Video tributes to Mr Ronson were shown from Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair and Education Secretary Michael Gove. Israel ambassador Daniel Taub, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, Haifa University president Amos Shapira and event host Lady Hatter delivered their praise in person.
Lord Sacks congratulated Mr Ronson on being “a person with a stronger sense of duty than anyone I have met”.