27 May 2024

Israel, a self-defined European country, prides itself on its intellectual, and especially its scientific, capability. It has therefore come as a shock that the academic and cultural boycott movement is rapidly isolating the country from its potential scientific partners in Europe, as the following report from Science/Business confirms.

Academic boycotts over Gaza war jeopardise Israel’s place in Horizon Europe

23 May 2024

European universities are cutting ties and ending cooperation, raising questions over Israel’s future in EU research


Photo credits: Thijs ter Haar / Flickr

A growing number of European universities are ending their ties with Israel over the war in Gaza, including in existing Horizon Europe projects, prompting Israel’s science minister to hold emergency talks with the country’s research leaders over how to retain scientific links with Europe.

Gila Gamliel has said that Israel is considering new incentives to encourage academics to come to Israel, and last week signed a cooperation agreement with Guatemala to try to shore up the country’s outside scientific links in the face of European boycotts.

With student protest camps spreading across the continent, European university boycotts could prove a major headache for the EU’s entire science strategy, which has since 1996 included Israel, a technology leader, as a fully integrated part of its research and innovation framework programmes.

To date, Israel has received more than €600 million from Horizon Europe, more than many EU member states, including Poland and the Czech Republic.

Last week, the University of Granada said it would suspend student and researcher exchanges with Israeli institutions, and stop cooperating with Israeli on five Horizon Europe and Horizon 2020 projects.

The University of Barcelona yesterday confirmed it would not strike any agreements with Israeli institutions “until the conditions in the Gaza area guarantee absolute peace and respect for human rights”, and would immediately break a cooperation agreement with Tel Aviv University.

It also called on the EU to immediately block Israeli institutions from all European funded projects, and said that until that happened, the university would “not participate in any academic or institutional event in which Israeli institutions are involved.”

Some Israeli researchers say the country is already being shut out of Horizon Europe. “They were told to leave [consortia] because they were Israeli,” said Netta Barak-Corren, a law professor who is heading a taskforce at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem monitoring boycott attempts. “It was very blunt.”

An internal Israeli Ministry of Intelligence report compiled in mid-April and seen by Science|Business warns that the growing wave of European boycotts “pose risks to Israel’s scientific-technological position in the world, and in the long run could lead to damage to national security and the strength of Israel’s economy”.

It also warns that the boycott movement risks stopping Israeli scientists joining research consortia as part of Horizon Europe.

The report singles out Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium and Italy as the European countries where action including protests, petitions and boycotts have been particularly pronounced.

Equal treatment

Gamliel has seized on its findings, and said last month that Israel would take “all measures to guarantee them [Israeli researchers] equal treatment in the international scientific community”.

Israeli media last month warned that the country’s academics were facing an “unprecedented” global boycott, with conference invitations cancelled, overseas lectures disrupted, and scientific articles rejected for political reasons. 

Since the Israeli assessment in mid-April, even more European universities have announced they will end or at least review links to Israel following the Gaza war, raising question marks over the future of multiple ongoing Horizon Europe projects.

Critics of Israel’s conduct in Gaza received a boost this week after the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, applied for arrest warrants for Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu, for war crimes including starving civilians. Also accused are Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defence minister, and Hamas leaders.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which has long campaigned on European campuses for universities to cut ties with Israel said this week that “in nearly 20 years of campaigning, never have we seen so many gains in such a short period of time”.

Spain appears to have taken a lead in severing ties. The Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (Crue) earlier this month said it would review whether it should suspend collaboration agreements with Israeli universities and research centres that have “not expressed a firm commitment to peace and compliance with international humanitarian law.” Crue did not clarify how it would measure this commitment.

“Of course we mourn the tragedy unfolding on both sides of the Gaza border,” said Barak-Corren. But she argued that Israeli universities have been preoccupied with kidnapped, killed, injured, and called-up students and faculty, plus a months-long delay to the start of term due to the October 7 attacks, meaning they had not been focused on broader declarations about the war.  


In Ireland, following student protests, Trinity College Dublin earlier this month agreed to divest from Israeli companies active in occupied Palestinian territory that appear on a United Nations blacklist. A taskforce has also been set up to look at divestment from other Israeli companies, and review student exchanges with Israel.

In Slovenia, the University of Ljubljana yesterday concluded that it would check future potential Israeli Horizon Europe partners for connections to the military, or whether they support “violence”. 

In the Netherlands, Leiden University last week said it would not admit student exchange students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University until after an evaluation. Committees will also be set up to review existing and new research collaborations with Israel.

In Belgium, Ghent University has said it would cut ties with three Israeli research organisations it concluded were “very problematic” due to links to the military and Israeli government ministries.

In Norway, OsloMet University was one of the first institutions to take action, deciding in February it would stop entering into “general cooperation agreements with Israeli universities” and putting an existing agreement with the University of Haifa on hold. Also in February, the University of South-Eastern Norway ended agreements with Haifa and Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem, although stressed it was not stopping individual collaboration with Israel.

These boycotts are “already straining existing collaborations between individuals”, said Michael Elbaum, a cell scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science. “A boycott is impersonal, based on association rather than familiarity,” he said.

Risk to the European Research Area

So far, the European universities that have announced boycotts or launched reviews remain a small minority.

But even these risk undermining the European Research Area (ERA) – an attempt to build a kind of single market for academics – and EU framework programmes, warned Christian Ehler, an MEP who was a rapporteur in the design of Horizon Europe, in a statement last week responding to Trinity College Dublin.

“The ERA cannot exist if we allow academic institutions to discriminate against certain people which are part of the ERA,” he said.

University boycotts also raise the question of how European governments will respond – either leaving universities to determine their own policy, or intervening to try to preserve research relations with Israel.

Europe is already split more broadly over the war in Gaza, with Ireland, Norway and Spain set to recognise Palestinian statehood. Germany, meanwhile, has continued to back Israel – with caveats – and earlier this week complained that the ICC had created an “incorrect implication of equivalence” between Hamas and Israeli political leaders.

A spokeswoman for Ireland’s Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science said Irish universities are “academically independent and are entitled to manage their own affairs including their engagements with other research organisations and the [EU] framework programme.”

A spokesman for Norway’s Ministry of Education and Research said the Israeli government had not been in contact over its concerns about boycotts. “There are no national restrictions on research cooperation with Israel,” she said.

But a spokesman for Italy’s science minister, Anna Maria Bernini, said the minister had repeatedly rejected calls in Italy for a boycott of Israel. She has “cautioned against associating the Netanyahu government with people and universities”, the spokesman said.

A further headache for the EU is that the European Commission has proposed allowing dual use research in Horizon Europe’s successor, FP10, due to start in 2028.

It’s unclear whether this military-related research will be restricted to EU member states, but any hint of military use could make Israeli involvement even more controversial.

In March, the Statewatch NGO published an investigation that found multiple Israeli drone companies had received money from EU framework programmes, and that this drone technology was now potentially being used in the war in Gaza.

Asked about the investigation, a Commission spokesperson pointed out that “results of R&D projects may develop – either immediately or with adaptation – technologies with a dual-use potential, even if these R&D projects were originally intended for purely civil applications. This transition could happen beyond the lifetime of the R&D project itself.”