Eminent academics, including five Fellows of the Royal Society and a member of the French Académie des Sciences, have added their voices to a growing chorus of dismay at signs that the European Union is caving in to pressure to water down its guidelines on funding in Israeli settlements.
The guidelines, announced to much fanfare last July, will ban Israeli institutions that operate in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the West Bank, from receiving EU funding.
The guidelines could, if implemented, also deprive Israeli banks of access to loans from the European Investment Bank.
But, the academics’ letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton states in part:
Reports are appearing with worrying frequency that European Union and Israeli officials are close to agreement on a weakening of the [European] Commission’s Guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities and their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 for grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards.
We have been particularly disturbed to read in Israeli media that one of these changes removes the obligation of Israeli grant applicants to make a formal declaration that the activities for which they seek funds will not take place, in whole or in part, in the Occupied Territories; this leaves it up to the EU to try to identify breaches.
Another change means that any European funds recipient needs only to have its HQ registered at an Israeli postcode to be eligible, even if the bulk of its activities are in the Occupied Territories.
The two dozen signatories include noted theoretician Étienne Balibar, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University Paris-Ouest (Nanterre); Sir Patrick Bateson FRS, Emeritus Professor of Ethology at Cambridge; Maria Esteban, mathematician of Universite Paris-Dauphine; Tom Kibble FRS, physicist of Imperial College London; Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Nice and philosopher Dr. Mary Midgley.
Another signatory, noted French philosopher and political theorist Jacques Rancière, previously showed his support for Palestinian rights by canceling a lecture at Tel Aviv University in 2012 in response to the Palestinian call for academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions.
Giving Israel loopholes
The concern is that while keeping the guidelines on the books formally, the EU will provide Israel with so many “loopholes” that business will continue as usual.
“This would let companies like Ahava off the hook completely. Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories are based in an illegal West Bank settlement and yet they have participated in and even co-ordinated a number of EU-funded projects worth millions of Euros. Since they have their HQ in Israel, they would still be allowed to continue such activities under this weakening of the guidelines,” explained Professor Ivar Ekeland, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a member of AURDIP, in a press release accompanying the letter.
In September, as The Electronic Intifada reported, the EU included Ahava in a new multi-million dollar skin research program.
The EU has indeed given indications that it is on the verge of succumbing to Israeli and American pressure to water the guidelines down.
Reuters reported on 25 October that while no agreement had been reached, EU officials were reassuring Israel not to worry.
“The EU has said it will not change the new guidelines, but is looking at ways for a flexible implementation of the rules,” Reuters said.
The Electronic Intifada’s European Union expert David Cronin wrote when the guidelines were first announced that even if fully enforced, they would would be no more than a “mild” slap on the wrist.
With the changes feared by the academics, they would become utterly meaningless.
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead of BRICUP said of the latest letter: “We are endeavoring to demonstrate to the EU the strength of feeling against such a capitulation to Israeli pressure. As part of our campaign we asked a very select group of European researchers of the highest national and international standing to sign the letter to Lady Ashton. The response has been most impressive.”
This latest letter to Ashton follows a September statement signed by more than 500 academics in the EU and other countries calling on the EU not to back down as well as a similar call signed by 600 Israeli intellectuals.
Seeking to bring the maximum public pressure on EU officials not to cave in to pressure, the European Coordination of Committees for Palestine have set up a special web page where residents of EU countries can easily send an email to their Member of the European Parliament to urge support for the settlement guidelines.