EU-Israel pact fails to silence dissent

June 13, 2003

Academics should take individual action to frustrate the renewal of Israel's membership of the European Union's biggest research programme, the professor at the centre of last summer's boycott row said this week.

The European Commission confirmed this week that it had renewed its agreement on scientific and technological cooperation with the Middle Eastern state.

Israel will contribute €192 million (£136 million) to the five-year Sixth Framework Programme, worth a total of €16 billion.

But Mona Baker, the academic who caused the storm by sacking two Israeli scholars from the boards of her journals, said the move put the onus on individuals to enforce the boycott of Israeli institutions. She said the real test would be whether enough researchers will work with Israeli institution partners.

In April last year, 115 academics wrote to The Guardian , following reports of violent repression of Palestinians, calling for a moratorium on European funding "until Israel abides by United Nations resolutions and opens serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines proposed in many peace plans".

Thousands of academics worldwide then signed an online petition calling for a moratorium on EU research support to Israel. In recent weeks, the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers have met to try to agree terms of the so-called roadmap peace plan, but progress has been slow.

One of the signatories to the original letter, Patrick Bateson, provost of King's College, Cambridge, said there was no longer a case for a moratorium.

He said: "The reason we sent the letter was because we wanted people to take notice of the situation. But now things are moving and the signals sent have had some effect."

But Professor Baker insisted the boycott was not over. The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology translation studies expert said: "No large organisation or government will dare implement a boycott of Israeli institutions simply because academics call for it. The boycott has to be enforced by individuals - many of them - before it becomes officially endorsed by the EU, the UN etc."

Israel is the only non-European country to be fully associated with the framework programmes. During the last framework, it participated in 612 EU-sponsored research projects, including agricultural and water-management research. Many included Arab partners from the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.

EU research commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "The agreement will also pave the way to enhanced dialogue between Arabs and Israelis. Research is an area where contacts and cooperation can transcend political and cultural barriers, with Arab and Israeli scientists working in partnership, thanks to EU projects."

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