OPINION: Beat Israel boycotts by deepening university ties

OPINION: Beat Israel boycotts by deepening university ties

Tali Sayar
Tali Sayar
Tali Sayar
Tali Sayar

By Tali Sayar, British Friends of Haifa University

Israeli Universities are deepening the ties with their British colleagues. On the issue of people trying to drive a wedge between Israeli and non-Israeli academic institutions at a recent Haifa University reception, Ambassador Daniel Taub was clear: “The response is to deepen the ties.”

We were celebrating a scientific collaboration between Haifa and Cambridge Universities, our host focusing emphatically on international collaboration, the importance of education and the range of work undertaken as well as Israel’s particular asset of significant educational resources.

We are proud of the many academic collaborations between Haifa and universities in the UK, particularly the work of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge, where the institutions are collaborating on social neuroscience and autism research, as well as the Cairo Genizah research, at Southampton University where joint work is being undertaken on molecular mechanisms of learning and memory and at Brunel, where we are collaborating on research into marine geosciences.

Most recently the Haifa Forum for Brain and Behaviour was attended by five UK academics, and next week the workshop on the molecular basis of learning and memory will take place also in Haifa with seven UK professors of neurobiology from Dundee, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Southampton.

With recent headlines about boycotts of Israel from many and varied institutions, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects, the University of London Union, and even most recently the Methodist Church – which has sensibly decided that BDS has nothing to contribute to the region at this time and has put off any boycott decision – it is small wonder that Israeli academics as well as our own community are indignant.

Discriminating against academics based on their nationality is of course completely contrary to the values of free thought and the sharing of ideas which are core university principles. The call for an academic boycott of Israel is a particularly unhelpful feature of the BDS campaign.

For Haifa, this stance would seem especially inappropriate as it is a university located in a shared city and the most pluralistic institution of higher education in Israel. Young people from cities and development towns, kibbutzim and moshavim, new immigrants, Jews, Arabs, and Druze, all come together in an atmosphere of coexistence, tolerance, and mutual respect.

“It is within the academic community that we’ve had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favour of seeing us as equals… If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach,” pointed out Sari Nusseibah, the president of Al Quds University in a show of solidarity.

This year, the Nobel Prize for chemistry was won by two Israeli academics. The judges said their computer models that mirror real life have “become crucial for most advances made in chemistry today.” It would be particularly grotesque if such significant advances made in science by top academics were overlooked due to their nationality.

As we reach the end of the academic year and many students look forward to celebrating their graduation, I’m travelling to Israel with Lady Irene Hatter, the honorary president of the British Friends, who is being awarded an honorary doctorate by the university at a formal ceremony in recognition of her commitment to further education and learning and making education accessible to underprivileged young people, and for her support of the university, its students and especially to marine research.

She will be in the distinguished company of FW de Klerk, Chaim Topol and Professor Stefan Reif of Cambridge, among others. While in Israel, we will be celebrating with friends from around the world, focusing on the tremendous connection between the university and its colleagues abroad and the remarkable quality and quantity of research collaboration in the sciences and other fields.

Collaborative projects, such as the acclaimed new breakthrough method to monitor evolution of AIDS, SARS and polio viruses with researchers at California university are crucial.

We are delighted that Haifa is contributing to the progress and development of knowledge and understanding and that Haifa, like other Israeli universities, continues to work hand-in-hand with so many other top international institutions.

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