Lecturer slams students' anti-Israeli outbursts

May 20, 2005

Italian authorities and politicians have condemned anti-Israeli protests at universities, but one lecturer believes that prejudice is widespread and, as a result, the official response has been muted.

Hostilities have so far been minor and confined to incidents involving radical-Left students disrupting lectures by visiting academics. There is no move for a boycott similar to the one that has split the Association of University Teachers in the UK.

Giorgio Israel, a Jewish lecturer in the history of mathematics at Rome's La Sapienza University, said: "Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli prejudice is widespread in our universities, not only among students but also among professors. They tend to turn a blind eye, believing that while the protesters are wrong to disrupt a lecture by an Israeli their heart is in the right place."

Mr Israel added: "There have been no cases of active boycotting of research programmes with Israel. This may be a sign of common sense, possibly bolstered by history. It is hard for a country that in the past persecuted the Jews to assume a position of moral superiority."

The past three years have seen a boom in joint research programmes, with partnerships at the level of government, ministries, single universities and other institutions .

Excluding specifically military research, Italy is Israel's most important foreign research partner, with more than 300 university researchers and more than half the country's universities collaborating with Israeli colleagues.

A new wave of co-operation began soon after the conservative Government of Silvio Berlusconi took office in June 2001.

One factor that may have prevented previous governments from developing research ties with Israel is that pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli stances are frequent in the Italian Left, particularly in the small parties of the extreme left that were part of the coalitions.

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