Israeli unis: great harm without Horizon 2020 26Aiug13 August 26, 2013

Alternative Information Centre     -    14 August 2013

Israeli_universitiesA meeting was held earlier this week between Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and the committee of Israeli university presidents.  During the meeting, university heads warned of “disastrous consequences” should Israel not join the EU Horizon 2020 project in protest of recently published EU guidelines which render all EU-Israel agreements inapplicable in Palestinian and Syrian territory occupied in 1967.

Horizon 2020, or the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, is a flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness. Israel is the sole non-EU country invited to join the prestigious initiative as a full member.

An Israeli government discussion convened Thursday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concluded with the decision to seek rewording of the guidelines. In what the Israeli press termed a “difficult conversation”, Netanyahu officially notified EU Foreign Secretary Catherine Ashton last Friday that should the guidelines not be reworded, Israel will not sign agreements with the EU.

The Israeli news site Walla reports that Deputy Minister Elkin opened this week’s meeting, convened at his request, with an update on the Israeli government decision concerning the guidelines, noting that Israel “will not accept dictates” from Europe on the issue of its borders.

University heads replied to Elkin concerning the dire consequences of such a decision, noting that hundreds of millions of shekels in research grants would subsequently be lost, causing “substantial damage” to Israel’s scientific research. The issue, however, is not solely financial. “”The agreement…is not only about research grants, but also partnerships in the areas of research infrastructures”, the university presidents told Elkin according to Walla.

“If we won’t sign, cooperation in various fields will be halted and Israel will be cut off from the European research network. A majority of the European universities which collaborate with us will find replacements for Israel, but we will find it extremely difficult to find a replacement for Europe”, they told Elkin. In response to the suggestion that Israel sign R&D agreements with China and India, one participant noted that “with all due respect to China and India, the gaps between them and Europe are still substantial”.

The presidents further explained the long-term damage to Israeli academia should the agreement not be signed. “Non-participation in Horizion 2020 will result in a decline in the position of research institutes in Israel, both due to the financial harm and the cancellation of joint projects and the absence of Israeli researchers at important conferences in Europe. Long-term, this is even more serious than the immediate financial harm in the coming years”.

A meeting participant told Walla that Elkin was “surprised” by some of the information presented by Israeli university heads. “He knew before the meeting that this is a serious subject, but didn’t fully understand the damage that will be caused to universities should Israel not sign”.

Elkin told the university heads that Israel “very much wants to sign, but cannot without a change in European policy toward settlements”. Elkin even requested that the Israeli university presidents join Israel’s hasbara efforts, speaking with senior European academics to request assistance in freezing or rejecting the European guidelines. A meeting participant told Walla that “this is  a rather odd request. It is not accepted that an academic requests that another academic use political influence in his country, not even in this case”.

Negotiations between the EU and Israel on Horizon 2020 are slated to begin today, but cannot go far in these current circumstances.

The ongoing occupation, apartheid and systematic violation of Palestinian human and national rights are not on the public agenda for the vast majority of Israelis. Yet it is precisely when the direct interests and privileges of Israelis – particularly upper middle class white men, who are the presidents of Israeli universities and leaders of their country’s financial, technological, academic and cultural sectors – are challenged that the occupation of Palestine is rendered visible in the public discussion, albeit for the most selfish of reasons.

As in the case of apartheid South Africa, decades of constructive engagement-like agreements with Israel have resulted in a further entrenchment of the occupation and an Israeli attitude that international condemnation is only words, cheap words that Israel can bear. It is only when the western international community attempts to uphold its own professed values of democracy and human rights that Israel is forced to contemplate another way. As Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly stated in July 2005, BDS is the way toward a just peace in the area. The evidence is clear.

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