Believe it or not a major UK academic delegation is seeking research cooperation ... with Israel!
Now that the UK academic boycott is basically defunct, a delegation of senior British university heads were in Israel last week, looking to promote that very thing.
They were led by Professor Rick Trainor, president of Universities UK, the umbrella organization of all the UK universities, and the vice-chancellor of Kings College, London.
The group's mission was to find ways to enhance academic cooperation between Israel and the UK, and explore the possibility of joint research projects. The visit was organized by the British Embassy, the British Council in Israel and the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB).
Representatives met with Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who said that "this visit symbolizes the desire to strengthen academic cooperation between the UK and Israel, a desire that we mostly welcome and definitely share."
"The visit serves as a counterpoise to the defunct academic boycott," said Prof. Yosef Yeshurun, IAB chair and Bar-Ilan University pro-rector. "Instead of threatening academic freedom, it represents a practical effort to generate academic cooperation for the benefit of all."
Ofir Frankel, IAB executive director, added that "the visit demonstrates the good relations between British universities and their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. They are interested in promoting and encouraging research, not in boycotting or silencing those whose work contributes to the alleviation of human poverty and the improvement of welfare."
"British and Israeli universities already demonstrate high level collaboration in the fields of medicine, biotechnology and the social sciences; now there is an opportunity to strengthen and deepen these links for the benefit of populations everywhere," she added.
At the University of Haifa, Prof. Aaron Ben-Ze'ev commented: "I am pleased that the threat of a boycott has finally been removed; we now have to focus our efforts on research and scientific cooperation."
I suppose the Israeli academics are simply,thrilled, thrilled to be considered part of the club again. Then again, I can also see where the Israelis telling the Brits to get stuffed would have been rude, bad form, and counterproductive, especially since a number of the members of the delegation claimed to be against the boycott...at least while they were in Israel.
Trainor for his part talked about "the tremendous academic strength of Israeli universities" and said that Israeli academia is "something we want to interact with." He also let it be known that he didn't approve at all of the boycott attempt.
"There is an absolute contradiction between academia and a boycott," he said.
"We have come to talk about the importance of deepening academic ties between England and this part of the world."
Well, it's an improvement. Definitely.
And hopefully something worthwhile will come of it.