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Israelis warn of negative consequences of EU boycott

January 30, 2014 at 1:20 pm

In the wake of the EU decision to boycott Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israeli scientists and research institutes have warned that cutting academic ties with the EU would harm their work, Haaretz has reported. Responding to the EU decision, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett had called for the government to stop all links and cooperation with Europe.

The Head of Israel’s National Security Council, Yaakov Amidror, has made several recommendations to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be discussed in the coming days. According to Bennett’s representative, his opinions are personal and at the meeting with Netanyahu the ministry’s professional view will be presented.

Officials in Israel have discussed whether the country should join the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and development programme, in which the economy, education and science ministries are all slated to participate from next year.

“It’s not clear that Israeli countermeasures [to the EU move] would have any effect,” an official from the economy ministry said. “We’re talking about a fly that would not really bother the European elephant. But if we find something that could have an impact, we’ll consider it.”

Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry wants Israel to join Horizon 2020 as planned. In a recent letter to his cabinet colleagues, Perry urged them not to make any hasty decisions. The Council for Higher Education in Israel, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Education, has not yet finalised its opinion on the matter.

If Israel joins Horizon 2020, it will pay the European Union some €600 million over the next seven years. In exchange, Israeli universities, researchers and companies will be eligible for EU grants and other funding in a wide variety of technological fields. For every euro put in by Israel it is expected to get back €1.5, or about €900 million in total. Israel is the only country outside the European Union to have been invited to join Horizon 2020 as a full member.

The Vice President for Research and Development at the Hebrew University, Professor Shai Arkin, believes that withdrawing from the programme would cause major damage to Israeli research. “The most critical aspect is not the money, but the cooperation,” said Prof. Arkin. “The moment we are cut off from one of the world’s two important centres of research – Europe – our science will become regional and less relevant and we will no longer have access to scientific infrastructure that is outside of Israel.”

Ahead of the discussion to be held by Netanyahu on this issue, Professor Uri Marchaim of Migal has sent a letter to the prime minister urging him not to make any hasty decisions and to take all relevant considerations into account. “Scientific cooperation between research centres in Israel and in Europe provides Migal not only with high-quality funding, but also brings our area, on Israel’s far periphery, to the forefront of contemporary and future science and technology,” he said. His company received a grant of €4.4 million from the EU last year to establish a centre for research on the environment, health and aging.