An open letter to the EU Commission : Stop funding the Israeli Occupation

In preparation for the EU’s post-2020 budget you have launched a public consultation on the use of EU funds in the area of investment, research and innovation [1]. Clicking the link leads to a questionnaire, with a detailed introduction stating at the outset that “Although a modest budget, at around 1% of the EU’s gross national income or 2% of all EU public spending, it supports the EU’s shared goals by delivering essential public goods and tangible results for EU citizens”.

We as academics are extremely worried that among the many goals listed in what follows, there are none which address the advancement of democracy, human rights and freedom of speech in the EU and abroad. To be sure, there is one goal of “funding shared activities in the field of migration and security ; and supporting development and humanitarian aid”, but nothing is said about what these activities should be, and which kind of development is envisioned. We object to supporting surveillance or monitoring activities, for instance, or developing tools for that purpose, unless we are confident that strong policies are in place to protect the basic rights of citizens and non-citizens. Such assurances have not been forthcoming from the Commission to date.

A significant amount of European taxpayers’ money goes abroad, for purposes which neither support European values, nor benefit EU citizens. As you well know, the EU Research Program is the second largest provider of funds to Israeli universities, second only to the Israeli government. These institutions have close connections with the Israeli military establishment, and with armaments companies such as Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, which are instrumental in maintaining the Palestinian population in the West Bank under a permanent state of siege, appropriating their land, and turning Gaza into an open-air prison, subject to an inhumane blockade of the most basic necessities of life, from electricity to water. The Hebrew University is partly built on illegally confiscated Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, while other universities are built over the sites of obliterated Palestinian villages, or, like Ariel, are located in illegal settlements in the West Bank. These universities undoubtedly train experts in surveillance and monitoring, benefiting as they do from the experience of maintaining the separation wall, the construction of which was roundly condemned by the International Court of Justice, and in controlling the Palestinian population by drones and electronic surveillance, but in what way does it benefit EU citizens ?

By supporting military occupation and disregarding both world opinion and legal rulings, the EU brings into disrepute the values of democracy and freedom which it claims as its own. Worse still, by “funding shared activities in the field of migration and security” with Israeli institutions the Commission risks importing into the EU strong-arm methods which are very far from the democratic procedures which the European people have developed for living together. As for sharing activities for supporting development and humanitarian aid, If Israel has competence in these fields, why has it not deployed it in supporting development in the occupied territories, and in bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

These concerns are widely shared in the European academic community. We refer you for instance to the recent statement of the President of the University of Leuven about the European project LAW TRAIN [2], the purpose of which is to facilitate international cooperation between police forces in interrogating suspects. One wonders what European values are enhanced by such research, but so be it. Nor, in effect, does KU Leuven which states that it will no longer participate in the current project after its current obligations end, citing the participation of the Israeli police and a concern that such techniques will be used to suppress the legitimate rights of Palestinians.

That these rights are under attack, and have been for over half a century, is in no doubt. For a recent example, we refer you to the recent EU Heads of Missions Report on Jerusalem 2017 [3]. The situation has not improved since 2002, when the European Parliament voted to impose economic sanctions on Israel, a resolution which was never implemented.

Our message is simple : free trade is simply not enough. Unless the EU pays more than lip service to the values of democracy, human rights and freedom of speech, and implements guidelines for the its research programs to respect them, it will fail in its mission to unite the people of Europe around common values. More research is needed on these topics, and less on surveillance and interrogation. But action is needed as well : every project should be checked for its compliance with international law.

The EU made a commendable decision to require that no activity it funds should take place in occupied land. However this is hard to check, and since it mostly relies on self-declaration, we fear that this decision has little impact in practice. Recent developments in Israel will make the situation much clearer. Legislation has been introduced to turn all universities and colleges located in West Bank settlements into full-fledged members of the Israeli Council for Higher Education [4]. The result is that the Israeli academic system in its entirety is now complicit in the occupation and colonisation of the West Bank. Professors, researchers and students move freely within this system, and European funds allocated to one university end up benefiting the others. The outcome is that the EU in supporting Israeli universities is supporting the occupation. Israel should not be eligible for participation in EU research programmes.

Ivar Ekeland
former president of the Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine (AURDIP),
former president of the University Paris-Dauphine,
former president of the Scientific Council of the Ecole Normale Supérieure

Herman De Ley,
Steering Committee, Belgian Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (BACBI),
Emeritus Professor, Ghent University, Belgium

Jonathan Rosenhead,
Chair, British Committee for Universities of Palestine (BRICUP),
Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics, UK

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