This is a guest post by Stephen Hoffman
All this week the Zionist Federation has held its Science Week. The purpose of this week is for Israel and Israelis to get the recognition they deserve for the advances they have made in science against all the odds. It is amazing that a nation the size of Wales that has had to fight for its survival each of its 64 years of existence, leads the world in many areas of science. It is something we should celebrate, so that those who want to define Israel by conflict and war are not allowed to get away with it.
The Science Week took place across the country and people heard from leading Israeli scientists about the medical advances they had made. Audiences came from primary and secondary schools, six form colleges, universities and community groups of all ages, genders, races, religions and creeds. For some it was probably the first time they had seen the human side of Israel, rather than what the media portrays Israel as. When they heard from Professor Finberg, who developed the drug Rasigiline that transformed the way we treated Parkinsons today, they saw how those working in Israel are transforming medical care worldwide. When they heard from Professor Etzioni, they saw a Professor who, like doctors across the world, was committed to working to improve patients’ lives, and in his pioneering work in immunodeficiency diseases had done so. When they heard from Dr Maya Shamir, they saw how the Israeli educational system encourages science and leading medical research, in a way that we in the UK could learn from. This is key, because if we are to have any hope of showing the best of Israel, we have to be actively promoting it so that people can see it, because if we don’t we leave an open goal for those who will paint Israel in the worst possible light.
The week ended fittingly on Thursday with Dr Amit Goffer (who invented the ReWalk, which helped Paraplegics to walk and Claire Lomas who thanks to the ReWalk was able to become the first person to complete the London Marathon in a bionic suit last year. What made the occasion in London so special was that it was the first time that Claire Lomas met Amit Goffer and had the chance to thank him for giving her one of the best years of her life. What had first been despair due to her injuries caused by a horse riding injury had been transformed into a commitment to live life to the full.
The sad thing is, is that last year when Claire Lomas completed the marathon, the origins of the ReWalk in Israel made by an Israeli inventor were hardly mentioned. It was as if the British press could not stomach the idea of Israel being involved in anything that wasn’t to do with war, or treating Palestinians and their own citizens inhumanely. This is wrong, Amit Goffer and Israel who helped provide him with the necessary support for the ReWalk should get the credit they deserve for making a difference to Claire Lomas’s life and hopefully thousands more in the future.
It was truly inspiring to see Amit Goffer and Claire Lomas sharing a platform. Explaining his motivation, a wish for Paraplegics to be able to interact as much as possible with the world as we see it, he explained how, as someone who in an accident had become a quadriplegic, he was determined to make sure that those in similar positions to himself were given the best opportunities in life. Alongside him, it was great to see Claire being able to express her gratitude to Amit who had transformed her life.
So the next time you hear a friend or a news report making Israel seem as popular as a pork sandwich at a Jewish wedding, just remind them how whether it is in pioneering medical research, disaster relief, transforming the lives of Paraplegics worldwide or providing drugs that save and improve lives, Israel is a force for good in the world. Thanks to the ZF’s science week, those in the UK get the chance to see the true face and beauty of Israel. It’s our job to make sure that they don’t forget it and that Israel gets the recognition it deserves not just for a week a year, but the whole year around. Perhaps then, we will be able to talk about Israel on its own terms, rather than having it defined by the conflict.
Not only is the topic of Israeli science positive and interesting in its own right, it is another area in which it can be demonstrated how inaccurate the term ‘apartheid’ is in the context of Israel. Here is a link to an organisation designed to foster cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian scientists. Here is a story about a project to encourage Arab-Israeli involvement in technology and entrepreneurship, and here is a link to an organisation with similar aspirations. Here you can read how 90% of engineers at Galil software are Arabs. And finally here’s a positive story about how an Arab-Israeli company has just won a Eureka grant for its work on Solar panels.
Gene adds: I posted a couple of years ago about how ReWalk was featured in an episode of the TV series “Glee,” where it was identified as an Israeli invention.