GENEVA - Israel, targeted by an academic boycott campaign in some Western and developing countries, on Friday signed up to become the first Associate member of the CERN "Big Bang" particle physics research center probing the origins of the universe.
Under an agreement formalized at the 20-nation CERN's headquarters on the borders of France and Switzerland near Geneva, in just over two years' time Israel will almost certainly become the first non-European full member of the center, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
"It is a vital part of our mission to build bridges between nations.
This agreement enriches us scientifically and is an important step in
that direction," CERN's Director General Rolf Heuer, a German physicist,
told the signing ceremony.
Eliezer Rabonivici, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study at the
Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the agreement was a recognition of
Israel's scientific and technological contribution to CERN over the
years. "The Israeli scientific community is looking forward to the
continuation of the joint adventure," he added.
"It is part of our mandate to provide politically neutral ground for
peaceful scientific cooperation," said CERN spokesman James Gillies when
asked if the boycott campaign -- aimed at cutting ties with Israeli
academic institutions over the country's policies in the Palestinian
territories it controls - could be turned against the organization.
The campaign, launched in 2002 by two British Jewish biologists, has won
considerable support among teachers and students in Europe, North
America and South Africa, but has also met widespread opposition from
academics and researchers who say politics should be kept out of
Several Arab and Muslim Asian countries - including Pakistan, Egypt,
Morocco and the United Arab Republic -- take part in CERN programs and
Turkey is one of the seven observers who can take part in meetings of
the center's steering Council. Palestinian researchers also take part in
In a news release on the agreement, CERN said Israel had supported
Palestinian students studying and working there, as well as sending
mixed Israeli-Palestinian contingents to its summer study program.
Israel became an observer - alongside the United States, Russia India,
and Japan among others - in 1991 and was granted special observer status
in 2009. It will become a full Associate as soon as its parliament, the
Knesset, has ratified the accord. Two years later, it will qualify for