Britain and Israel have signed a memorandum of understanding to expand their scientific cooperation – despite calls in Britain for an academic boycott of this country. It was signed in Jerusalem on Thursday by Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

British Ambassador Matthew Gould and HU president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, along with members of the British-Israeli Life Sciences Council, were also present at the event at the Hebrew University.

The two sides agreed that scientific and research projects will be increased in such a way that by 2018, they will be the leading participants in joint research in advanced materials, nanotechnology, agricultural research – especially relating to water resources – neurology and brain sciences, space research and regenerative medicine, which involves stem cells to create healthy new human tissue to replace diseases ones. All of these are fields in which Israel excels.

The countries decided to double the scope of their joint research in regenerative medicine to become world leaders in this field. They intend to increase the number of research scholarships in regenerative medicine to 300 within five years. By the end of 2014, they already hope to grant 30 more. By 2018 Britain and Israel also want to double the size of existing budgets for their joint research.

The memorandum of understanding was signed as part of BIRAX, the British-Israeli Research Academic Exchange, which supports joint research and arranges for meetings of researchers from the two countries.

Peri said that even though there are still British academics who call for the boycott of Israel, the government shows it recognizes the importance of scientific cooperation with Israel and is interested in expanding it out of considerations of excellence.

Hague said the two countries are both “scientific powers” and that many British and Israeli academic institutions already carry out “wonderful research work” together.

“It was a great pleasure to meet some of the Israeli scientists who work closely with British colleagues as part of BIRAX to find drugs for horrible diseases,” the foreign secretary said. “Our memorandum of understanding signed today will focus on our efforts in five fields and increase cooperation.”

Ben-Sasson said it was symbolic that the British minister is “continuing and deepening the research connections between the two countries as did one of his predecessors, Lord Arthur Balfour, at the beginning of the previous century.”

The HU president presented Hague with a copy of the historic speech delivered by Lord Balfour when the university was opened in 1921.

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