In 1963, Naim Dangoor had a choice. A successful businessman, he could choose to return from Beirut to his native Iraq to renew his passport — something only Jews were required to do — or he could decline to return to an increasingly repressive country, and forfeit both his nationality and all of his assets. Instead he could join his family, who he had already moved to England.
He chose the latter, and came to the UK, starting again from nothing. But the Dangoors rebuilt their business empire, and became well-known for their philanthropy in the UK, Israel and further afield. In 2015, at the age of 101, Naim Dangoor became the second oldest person to receive a knighthood. He died later the same year.
“My father made the decision, that in the balance between freedom and wealth, freedom was infinitely more valuable”, said his son, David Dangoor, who until recently was the President of the S&P Sephardi congregation.
“He gave up everything, when he was nearly 50, that he had worked for all his life. But Britain has been good to many immigrants, who have in turn given something back.”
Sir Naim created a scholarship programme which helped tens of thousands of students through university, as well as giving record donations to both the Royal Society of Medicine and the Francis Crick Institute. He was also very much involved in the creation of the Westminster Academy, where over 1,000 children, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, go to school. The Dangoor family has also worked for many years with the Weizmann Institute and Bar Ilan University in Israel.
During a “From Balfour to Brexit” conference on the future of UK-Israel relations this week, David Dangoor officially opened the Sir Naim Dangoor Centre for UK-Israel Relations at Mishkenot Hashaananim, Israel, in honour of his late father.
“Mishkenot Hashaananim was set up by Sir Moses Montefiore — again, an example of the Britain-Israel connection”, Mr Dangoor pointed out. “I’m conscious of the fact that it was here [in the UK] where a lot of BDS activities started. There are many streams in the UK — some of them not fully understanding Israel, and therefore being quite inimical to Israel.
“So I feel we’re well placed to try and do our little bit towards remedying that, and also to help Britain strengthen its current friendships outside the EU. Clearly we all know Brexit is going to change things, and the message from Theresa May and the government very much is ‘we need to strengthen our good relations, especially with those countries which have excellent business technology and science’ — and Israel is a top candidate in that.
“So I felt, to put my father there… and to bring Israel into an even stronger positive light in the UK and to help Britain strengthen its ties with Israel, were all great activities that we were delighted to be associated with.”
Mr Dangoor intends to set up a healthcare tech-hub, similar to the business hub which already exists between the two countries.
“The wonderful NHS is, as a lot of areas of medicine are, a very conservative body. What Israel has — partly because it’s a younger nation — is a wonderful health care service, which in many fields matches or exceeds what we get here in the UK,” he said.
“And I think therefore that we need to encourage practitioners in Israel to offer to the NHS some of the benefits they can. It’s a little known fact that over 20 per cent of the medicines that the NHS uses come from Teva, an Israeli company, and it’s rising, heading towards 25 per cent.
“For six years now we have sponsored the UK-Israel cardiology seminar, which takes place intermittently once in the UK, once in Israel — and a lot of good has come out of that. We feel this healthcare hub would take the potential to a new level, and of course, the NHS is such a huge organisation, that the potential for business benefit for Israel is vast.”
Interestingly, with regards to Brexit, Mr Dangoor said that “Israel could facilitate Britain’s access to India and China.
“Through the work we do with the Weizmann Institute and Bar Ilan university… we have come to have contacts with China and India. We notice that they hold Israel in very high regard, despite it being a nation infinitesimally smaller in population compared to their populations.”
Regarding the conference, which included Tzippi Livni and Tony Blair, Mr Dangoor revealed that for him, trade and science would be the most important topics of discussion.
“They enhance everything else,” he said. “If you have good science, you have ways of dealing with rockets coming over. If you have good science, you have allies who help you in the political arena. If you have good trade, you create wealth for both the country giving the produce and the one receiving.”