The director of the Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East said this week that the enthusiastic take-up by British academics of his seminars in Israel gave the lie to the belief that there was strong support for an academic boycott.
John Levy, who is sending five working groups to Israel this year, said: “We are sponsoring intimate encounters between Israeli academics and their UK counterparts.
“In October, we are running a seminar on fetal stress in Jerusalem and there will be four research teams attending, from Imperial College, Edinburgh, Southampton and Guy’s Hospital, together with academics from other parts of Europe. There is tremendous interest in this subject, and if there were more places, we could easily fill them.”
Almost all the participants, Mr Levy said, were first-time visitors to Israel. “It reflects the total lack of interest in the University and College Union boycott by most academics. The political debate is totally tangential and the feedback has been extremely positive.”
Mr Levy’s views were echoed two weeks ago in London when more than 170 scientists and researchers took part in a conference on systems biology, hosted by University College London and organised with Weizmann UK and the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. Leading scientists from Cambridge, Manchester, Imperial College, Edinburgh and the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge joined their counterparts from Israel at UCL, whose Professor Benjamin Chain was co-host with Professor Tony Futerman from the Weizmann.
At a dinner held at the Science Museum on the first evening of the conference, Lord Sainsbury, the former Science Minister, praised this example of international scientific collaboration.
“Scientists talking is an entirely global enterprise,” he said. “More than half of all scientific articles are co-authored today, and a third of these are internationally co-authored. I would very much like to see a formal link between Weizmann and one of our world-class universities.”
Lord Mitchell, Weizmann UK chairman, told guests that the success of the joint conference showed those pursuing an academic boycott of Israel “how outrageous and irrelevant their proposed boycott is. We at Weizmann UK will fight the proposed boycott with the weapon of example”.
Last week Professor Ada Yonath of Weizmann became the first woman Israeli scientist to be honoured by Oxford University at this year’s Encaenia ceremony.
Roger Lyons, chairman of the Trade Union Friends of Israel, condemned as “blatantly one-sided” a report from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions reaffirming its call for a boycott of Israel.
Mr Lyons said the report “fails to note the renewed political negotiations and the positive co-operation between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions. Following the recent truce in Gaza, isn’t it time that the ICTU now calls a truce on its divisive and misguided approach to the Middle East?”