British Council Scheme Aims to Undermine Civil Society Boycott Movement for Palestinian Rights

The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) appeals directly to academic colleagues in the UK scientific community NOT to apply for funding through the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX). This is a politically motivated scheme whose purpose is to protect Israel from the growing Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.

 Key Facts on BIRAX
1. In 2005 the organisations of Palestinian civil society called on “people of conscience all over the world” to refrain from collaborating with Israeli institutions, including universities, while they remain complicit in the Israeli government’s decades-long, ongoing oppression, colonialism and ethnic cleansing. The academic boycott is part of the growing global campaign for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). BDS is overwhelmingly supported by Palestinians. [1]

2. When the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX) was initiated in 2008, its purpose was made explicit: it aimed to be a “practical response to recent calls in the UK for an academic boycott of Israel” and sought to “deepen institutional links” between UK and Israeli universities in order to undermine these calls. [2]

3. This deeply political provenance predated any disciplinary focus; the decision to support research into regenerative medicine was made three years later (in 2011).This demonstrates the disingenuous nature both of its claim to be non-political and of its rhetoric of science “crossing borders” and bringing “universal benefit”. In fact the project harms Palestinians by actively working to undermine the BDS movement, which exerts the only effective pressure on Israel to respect human rights. [3]

4. In March 2016, internal emails obtained under Freedom of Information laws revealed that the British Council has repeatedly described BIRAX as – in its own words – an “anti-BDS” project, and has pitched it to potential donors in these terms. [2]

5. BIRAX was already known to receive funding from numerous donors who have funded many projects in Israel, including: the United Jewish Israel Appeal; and the Atkin, Yad Hadaniv and Pears Foundations. The Pears Foundation initiated BIRAX along with the British government – and has funded it to the tune of at least £1 million.  [2]

6. In March 2016 billionaire Nathan Kirsch was revealed to be a BIRAX donor: he is the biggest shareholder in Magal Security Systems, a company which won 80% of the first tranche of contracts for Israel’s separation Wall in the West Bank – ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. This raises the possibility that BIRAX is part-funded by profits from the illegal Wall. [2]

7. This evidence demonstrates that BIRAX seeks to normalise an intolerable status quo and to undermine the civil society BDS movement aiming to hold Israel accountable for its crimes against Palestinians. We call on UK-based scientists to follow the example of Stephen Hawking – who chose to boycott Israel in 2013 by refusing to attend the Israeli Presidents Conference – and decline to participate in BIRAX. [4]
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[4] Stephen Hawking joins academic boycott of Israel