May 27, 2010
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
Robert Benzie/Toronto StarJERUSALEM—Israeli President Shimon Peres has made Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty an offer he can’t refuse. In an extraordinary one-hour meeting, which was open to the media travelling with McGuinty, the Nobel Prize-winning Peres asked Ontario to partner with Israel on leading-edge brain research. “I would like to suggest to you something that doesn’t exist between countries,” the Israeli head of state told the premier at Beit Hanassi, the presidential palace here. “Let’s make as a start a virtual research institute between Toronto … Ontario and Israel,” said Peres, whose passion for aviation, agriculture and nanotechnology has vaulted Israel into the forefront of those fields. “We should have a small secretariat. There will be a group of scientists … not an administration. It would finance ideas, it would get financing and the fruits would be sweet,” Peres said, recommending it be funded by the private sector. “So if you are ready for it we can take three scientists from each side, right?” McGuinty, who later admitted Peres’ proposal came as “a complete surprise,” flashed a grin as the two men sat with their officials. “You don’t waste any time, do you?” said the premier. Shot back the 87-year-old president: “Time is so short …. I don’t waste time.” Peres noted “people were laughing” six or seven years ago when he launched a similar initiative to promote nanotechnology in Israel, which now has a thriving industry studying engineering on a molecular and atomic scale. “As a result of it we collected $500 million that was given to universities and research institutes and today Israel has (a booming nanotech sector,)” he said. “It was such a success that I myself was surprised. And now we’re going from nano to the brain.” Sounding more like a philosopher king than a politician who was twice Israel’s prime minister, Peres predicted the study of the brain would provide the great scientific breakthroughs of the 21st century, potentially helping everyone from Alzheimer’s patients to the clinically depressed. “I think the brain will be the centre of all research. And I think that (this could be) the greatest industry in the future … more than electronics, more than anything else —and this is preparation.” Envisioning “a virtual organization” of Israeli and Ontario scientist, he warned: “Science is positive, but the implementation of it is neutral. It can go either the evil way or the good way. I mean they gave us the nuclear bomb. We don’t know what to do with it.” Peres stressed that scientists pooling their knowledge is the way to go in this day and age. “The speed of things is becoming so high, the distances between countries is becoming low. “And innovation is the real story,” he said, touting the economic benefits of commercializing research. McGuinty, who is leading a delegation to promote the province’s life sciences industry, said Ontarians should be “flattered to receive that kind of an offer” from Peres. “This is … what’s globally known as a start-up nation. “They’re at the cutting edge of so much in terms of innovation and research and the president has said we’d like to partner with Ontario scientists so I think that’s a real compliment,” he said, pointing out his officials have started working on Peres’ suggestion. “I was impressed by this 87-year-old president who has the mind of a 27-year-old. “He’s keen and always thinking about what’s next.” Philanthropist Larry Tanenbaum, chair of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment who attended the McGuinty-Peres summit, agreed the joint initiative is a good one. Tanenbaum, who donated $25 million to Mount Sinai Hospital in 2006, said he would “absolutely” be willing to help bankroll any new collaboration on brain research. He noted the study of the brain only receives 10 per cent of the funding that goes toward cancer or cardiac research. Also on Sunday, McGuinty visted the Yad Vashem museum of the Holocaust, which was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. The premier continues his trip Monday with a one-on-one meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.