Delegates from an Israeli university on a partnership-building trip to the UK have warned of damaging consequences if their country fails to join Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research funding framework.
Rafi Melnick, provost of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), and Eric Zimmerman, the institution’s academic secretary, visited the UK during the latter half of August to establish student exchange programmes, in part in a bid to boost Israel’s image abroad.
But a diplomatic tiff over Israel’s participation in the EU’s €70 billion (£60 billion) research framework, which is set to start next year, could have a negative impact on academic links between it and the UK.
Under the terms of the country’s inclusion, projects by Israeli institutions that take place in the disputed territories of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem are not eligible for funding.
In August, the Israeli foreign ministry said the country would not join Horizon 2020 unless an understanding was reached over how these territorial restrictions will be implemented.
The specifics of the Israeli government’s concerns are unclear, and a spokesman for the embassy in London declined to elaborate further on the foreign ministry’s statement.
But Dr Zimmerman claimed that the Horizon 2020 rules could block any Israeli university that works in the disputed territories from receiving money, not just specific research projects.
“All of the Israeli universities that have an archaeology department carry out digs in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, so to exclude all of us from participating in Horizon…that is something that Israel would never be able to agree to,” he said.
However, a spokesman for the European Commission said that guidance would exclude only specific projects, not whole institutions.
There had been confusion over how Horizon 2020 grants would be classed under the EU’s rules, he said. A further meeting on the issue will take place this month, he added.
Either way, the impact could be significant if Israel pulled out. Currently 1,584 Israeli institutions are involved in FP7, the precursor to Horizon 2020, and are set to receive €634 million in EU research funding.
Dr Zimmerman estimated that IDC, a private institution founded in 1994, draws 10 to 20 per cent of its research income from European sources.
“I would certainly like to see us continuing to participate in Horizon. IDC has definitely benefited from this funding, and therefore our European partners have benefited from our participation,” he said.
IDC was about to set up student exchange programmes with several UK universities, Professor Melnick and Dr Zimmerman noted.
“We have three very good leads with Russell Group institutions, and one very solid lead with one of the 1994 Group institutions. And there will be more,” said Dr Zimmerman.
He said he was personally keen on the exchanges as a form of “soft diplomacy”. He invited UK students to “come over, see Israel for yourself…see us for who we really are, and have your impressions made by fact and not by the BBC”.
IDC also wished to encourage academic exchanges between the two countries, which could evolve into collaborative research, joint degrees and doctorates, he added.