Following a September letter by 61 Irish academics calling for a European boycott of Israeli academia, the National University of Ireland Maynooth's Hamilton Institute signed a cooperation agreement this week with the Jerusalem College of Engineering.
"Each institution needs the knowledge possessed by the other," program initiator Prof. Ezra Zeheb, who heads the electronic engineering department at the college, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "The two are more valuable than either one alone," he said.
The agreement between the college and the Hamilton Institute was born out of Zeheb's connections to the institute. He has published several times with those "fine researchers" in peer-reviewed journals and at conferences.
"The timing is difficult for [the Irish researchers]," he acknowledged, referring to the boycott initiative. But, he insisted, "The specific people I was in contact with - one Jewish and the other Irish Catholic - felt no pressure, and have visited Israel without fear." The agreement was approved by the university institutions, indicating that they were also prepared to work jointly, he added.
On September 16, 61 Irish academics called for a European Union boycott of Israeli academic institutions in a letter sent to The Irish Times.
The petition complained that "the Israeli government appears impervious to moral appeals from world leaders and to longstanding United Nations resolutions," and called for "a moratorium on any further [cultural and academic] support to Israeli academic institutions, at both national and European levels."
In the framework of the new cooperation agreement, the institutions will exchange scientists, organize joint international conferences and exchange library data and books. In addition, Zeheb said, students from Jerusalem would have the opportunity to spend a semester at an NUI Maynooth campus outside Dublin.
"The student exchange will only go one-way," he said and added with a laugh that "very few Irishmen study in Hebrew."
College Vice President Dr. Avital Stein welcomed the cooperation agreement. "It is our first agreement with an overseas academic institution," she said, but the college was pursuing another venue for international cooperation "with a leading American university."
"Such steps are a recognition on the part of international academia of the high level of the college and of Israeli academia in general," she said.
The Jerusalem College of Engineering was founded in 1999, and works to train engineers for the local high-tech industry in Jerusalem. Its 900 students receive a B.Sc. degree in engineering at the end of their studies.