Belgian university to end partnership with Israeli torturers

Students and professors from KU Leuven call on the Belgian university to end its role in LAW-TRAIN, an EU-funded project involving Israeli torturers, in a September 2017 protest. (via Facebook)

Belgium’s KU Leuven university is to end its role in a European Union-funded “research” project carried out in partnership with Israeli torturers.

Luc Sels, the university’s rector, announced on Wednesday that researchers would be able to complete the current stage of the LAW-TRAIN project ending in April 2018, but would not take part in future phases.

“LAW-TRAIN cannot be judged separate from the composition of the consortium,” Sels stated.

“The participation of the Israeli public security ministry indeed poses an ethical problem taking into account the role which the strong arm of the Israeli government plays in enforcing an unlawful occupation of the Palestinian territories and the associated repression of the Palestinian population.”

Sels added: “I therefore do not consider it opportune to submit follow-up projects with an identical consortium.”

Plate-forme Charleroi-Palestine, a Belgian solidarity group, called the decision “a beautiful victory for all the organizations and individuals who mobilized against this collaboration with the Israeli police.”

Working with torturers

LAW-TRAIN began in May 2015 with the ostensible aim of “harmonizing and sharing interrogation techniques between the countries involved in order to face the new challenges in transnational criminality.”

In addition to KU Leuven, LAW-TRAIN involves Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, the Israeli public security ministry, the Belgian justice ministry, Spain’s Civil Guard paramilitary police and the Romanian police.

The EU insists that LAW-TRAIN meets ethical guidelines. But international legal experts said in June that LAW-TRAIN violates EU regulations and international law because Israel’s public security ministry “is responsible for or complicit in torture, other crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

Belgian and Palestinian academics and campaigners have called on European participants, including KU Leuven and Portugal’s INESC-ID research institute, to pull out of LAW-TRAIN.

LAW-TRAIN is funded under Horizon 2020, an EU program that provides millions of dollars to Israeli arms makers and human rights violators under the guise of supporting “research.”

Human rights charter

KU Leuven’s Sels wrote that the future of the LAW-TRAIN project was “one of the most difficult questions I was immediately confronted with” on taking office in August. He noted that “campaigners requested that we immediately end the research project including all related contracts.”

Another positive outcome is that Sels has committed KU Leuven to develop “a human rights charter as a tool to assess participation in research projects.”

This could have broad benefits and spur other institutions and academics to reexamine their own complicity in human rights violations by Israel and other abusers.

Portugal’s government already pulled out of LAW-TRAIN last year after campaigners raised human rights concerns.

Cornelia Geldermans, a Dutch prosecutor previously listed as a member of LAW-TRAIN’s advisory board, no longer appears to be involved. But three UK academics are still listed as advisers.

EU-funded abuse

Sels stressed that the university would apply an impartial approach to human rights issues, noting that “human rights are also being trampled by certain Palestinian organizations.”

He is correct, and these abuses are also facilitated by the EU.

For example, the EU funds EUPOL-COPPS, a program that trains Palestinian Authority security forces which violently repress Palestinian opposition to Israel’s military occupation.

Some of the officers who have headed the program had previously been members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the disbanded sectarian force notorious for human rights abuses in the British-ruled north of Ireland.

LAW-TRAIN is not the only problematic project funded by the Horizon 2020 research program. The initiative also gives millions of dollars to Elbit Systems, an Israeli company that is helping the Israeli military evade an international ban on cluster weapons.

Last year, Carlos Moedas, the EU science commissioner in charge of Horizon 2020, visited Israel.

Although the EU frequently claims that it maintains a “dialogue” with Israel on human rights, Moedas was advised by the EU officials planning his trip to avoid comments about Israel’s settlement activities when he met Israel’s science minister.

Emanuele Giaufret, the EU ambassador in Tel Aviv, recently boasted that Israel has pocketed a staggering $534 million from Horizon 2020 so far.

This week Giaufret was seen “celebrating Human Rights Day” with Israel’s justice ministry, whose head, Ayelet Shaked, notoriously published a call for genocide of the Palestinians.

Giaufret also shook hands with Uri Ariel, an extreme rightwing Israeli minister who has endorsed a plan to force Palestinians out of their homeland.

A prominent Holocaust scholar has called the Ariel-backed plan potentially genocidal and likened the values of its chief proponent, another Israeli lawmaker, to those of the Nazi SS.

By contrast, campaigners are certain to welcome KU Leuven’s decision to end its role in LAW-TRAIN as a genuine victory for human rights in the face of EU officials’ deepening complicity in and support for Israel’s most extreme policies.

Hundreds of Spanish officials back BDS

This victory comes amid other major indications of growing European awareness of the need to end institutional and governmental complicity in Israel’s human rights crimes.

Last week, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) hailed a statement signed by hundreds of elected officials in Spain expressing support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) as the sole approach for achieving a just and lasting peace for the Palestinian people.

And in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s decision this week to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinians are urging an escalation in such campaigns.

“Palestinians, supported by the absolute majority in the Arab world and millions of people of conscience worldwide, will not accept this latest US surrender to Israel’s extremist agenda,” the BNC said.

“We shall continue to insist on attaining our UN-stipulated rights and ending Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid through popular resistance and the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

Adri Nieuwhof contributed translation.

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Thanks to University Professors and students for taking this bold step.Israel is an eternal threat for world peace.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.