German research organisations criticise ‘discriminatory’ Israel boycotts

13 Jun 2024 | News

Divisions in Europe sharpen over whether to cut research ties with Israel over its war in Gaza, as more universities sever links

Photo credits: JLV Image Works / BigStock

The Alliance of German Science Organisations has criticised research boycotts of Israel, saying they are “discriminatory”, “misguided” and “counterproductive”.

In a statement on 11 June, the body representing university rectors, funding agencies, and research networks like the Max Planck Society, said it, “strongly rejects calls for a boycott of Israeli researchers and Israeli scientific institutions.”

The statement is the latest salvo in an escalating rift in European research over whether to cut academic projects and student exchanges with Israel over the country’s war in Gaza. Israel is a long-standing associated country to Horizon Europe, receiving hundreds of millions of euros from the EU so far during the research programme.

So far, German academia has lined up behind Israel, while in Spain and Belgium universities have gone furthest in severing ties.

Last month, Spanish universities said that they would review whether or not to suspend ties with Israeli universities that have not committed to, “peace and compliance with international humanitarian law.”

The University of Granada has said it would suspend student and researcher exchanges with Israel and cease cooperating with Israeli partners on five Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe projects.

The University of Valencia announced it would not sign any collaboration agreements with Israeli institutions until there is an end to “crimes against humanity” and human rights violations by Israel. In a decision of its governing council at the end of May, Valencia also said it would demand the European Commission stop funding Israeli research.

Meanwhile in Belgium, the Flemish Interuniversity Council last week asked the European Commission for guidance on how to continue working with Israeli partners in Horizon Europe, given that partners are required to uphold “basic EU values”.

Ghent University has decided to “discontinue all ongoing institutional collaborations with Israeli universities and research institutions,” while the University of Antwerp put institutional agreements with Israeli institutions on hold, and is set to screen EU-funded projects with Israeli partners to see if they could contribute to human rights violations.

In Italy, the University of Palermo’s academic senate has said it would suspend Erasmus+ student exchanges with Israel due to a “lack of essential security guarantees”, and was working on broader new procedures to govern research agreements with Israeli institutions.

In March the University of Turin’s academic senate decided to not participate in a scientific tender with Israel in protest at the war in Gaza, although the university has insisted other collaborations with Israeli universities are unaffected.

Universities in Ireland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Norway have all announced measures to limit ties with Israel, although not all amount to full academic boycotts.

The Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Amsterdam announced a series of measures on 5 June, including a ban on its staff travelling professionally to Israel and a block on accepting bilateral funding from the Israeli state or research institutions.

Israel has been associated to EU research programmes since 1996 and there are fears that the boycotts could unravel Horizon Europe and future EU research funding programmes. As yet, it is unclear exactly what impact the boycotts will have on individual Horizon Europe projects, with consortia currently working out the exact implications.

Last week, the German MEP Christian Ehler savaged European universities that are boycotting Israel, alleging the “reaction of the academic sector is a fundamental attack on the place of the Jewish people within the European community.”

In a letter to research commissioner Iliana Ivanova, Ehler called on the European Commission to, “guarantee the place of Israel and Israeli researchers in the European community.”

Meanwhile, Germany’s science minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger is facing calls to resign after reports her ministry explored stripping funding from academics who had signed an open letter criticising the police clearance of a pro-Palestinian protest camp at the Free University in Berlin.

Although the ministry appears to have decided the idea was not feasible, that it was even considered has triggered intense criticism of the minister from coalition government partners, the opposition, and academic representatives, as an attack on constitutionally-guaranteed academic freedom.

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