(photo credit: AP [file])
Two academic groups have welcomed the European Commission's declaration last week that it has no intention of suspending its programs of cooperation with Israeli institutions.
Following a letter published in The Irish Times in September, 61 Irish academics called for a suspension of the European Union's support of Israeli academic institutions and urged colleagues to boycott them "until Israel abides by UN resolutions and ends the occupation of Palestinian territories." The letter accused the Israeli government of appearing "impervious to moral appeals from world leaders and to longstanding UN resolutions."
In response to the letter, the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) of Bar-Ilan University, an academic body set up to guarantee freedom in worldwide higher education, together with Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), a nonprofit made up of over 6,000 academics worldwide, called on the EU to defend academic freedom and clearly state that it opposes such boycotts.
The letter, signed by IAB chairman and Bar-Ilan University pro-rector Prof. Yosef Yeshurun and SPME president Dr. Ed Beck, read: "Academic life is about building bridges, not destroying them, opening minds, not closing them; hearing both sides of an argument, not one alone. The call for an EU boycott of Israeli academia is a betrayal of these values."
The office of the External Relations Directorate General of the European Commission wrote to Yeshurun and Beck last week, saying it considers "that measures such as to suspend the support that the EU addresses to academic and scientific cooperation between European and Israeli institutions are contrary to the principles of academic freedom and its objective of encouraging scientific cooperation."
The letter, signed by Alain Seatter, head of the EU unit, added: "It is the commission's view, which reflects the views of the EU foreign ministers, that positive persuasion and dialogue on respect for international and humanitarian law through the means provided by the legal treaties with Israel is a more effective approach to conveying EU views on issues, such as those raised by the academics to whom you refer.
"For this reason, the European Commission has no intention of suspending its programs of cooperation with Israeli institutions."