Has Israeli college in East Jerusalem deceived its EU donors?

Palestinian buildings have been demolished next to Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

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Has Israel been resorting to deception so that it can benefit from European Union funding?

For the past few years, I’ve been protesting about how the EU is continuing to subsidize Hebrew University of Jerusalem, even though it has a campus in occupied East Jerusalem. Aiding the university, I have argued, runs counter to “guidelines” published by the Union in 2013, which say that Israeli firms and bodies located in land seized by Israel in 1967 are ineligible for grants or loans.

After making a few complaints to the Brussels bureaucracy, I now believe that Hebrew University is circumventing those guidelines.

Robert-Jan Smits, head of the European Commission’s research department, has told me that Hebrew University names its campus at Givat Ram in West Jerusalem as its “place of establishment” when applying for science grants. That appears misleading: the university’s administrative headquarters are actually located on Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem.

In his latest reply to my complaints, Smits acknowledged that Hebrew University is active on Mount Scopus. “We have carefully checked and we can confirm that Mount Scopus is located within the pre-1967 borders” of Israel, he stated.

Unconvincing

He has provided an unconvincing “justification” for why the EU supports this institution. Indeed, his attitude is at odds with the EU’s general policy towards Jerusalem. Though riddled with inconsistencies, that policy has been one of avoiding measures that would confer recognition on Israel’s ever-tightening grip on Jerusalem.

The most visible manifestation of that policy has been the EU’s insistence that its embassy — and those of its member governments — for relations with Israel is situated in Tel Aviv, rather than Jerusalem.

While it’s correct that Hebrew University was built before 1967, it has supported and sought to exploit the occupation starting that year. According to the potted history of the university on its website, “studies were discontinued” on Mount Scopus in 1948, the year of Israel’s foundation. The reason cited was that “the road to Mount Scopus went through Arab areas and the convoys that camp up to the mount were an easy target for Arab snipers.”

The same official history states that “efforts to return the university to Mount Scopus began immediately” after Jerusalem was “reunited” in 1967. “Reunited” is the term Israel uses to describe a brutal occupation.

In 1968, the Israeli government confiscated land belonging to Palestinians on Mount Scopus. Part of that land was sold to Hebrew University the following decade; its Palestinian owners were adamant that the sale was illegal. In order to expand its facilities, Hebrew University has long been demanding the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Hebrew University is the top Israeli recipient of EU science grants. It took part in a total of 237 projects under a €53 billion ($61 billion) research program that ran from 2007 to 2013. If the number one beneficiary can skirt around the 2013 guidelines with such ease, doing so shouldn’t prove difficult for other Israeli companies and institutions.

Last year, I unearthed evidence showing that senior EU representatives had pledged to interpret the guidelines in a “flexible” manner. So it doesn’t surprise me that the Union has shown no desire to halt its aid to Israeli weapons manufacturers.

The drone-maker Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) was also one of the ten leading recipients of EU grants in the 2007-2013 period. IAI is involved in joint research with Ariel University — located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank — in using nanotechnology to develop miniature satellites.

Sordid

Under the aforementioned guidelines, the EU does not (as far as I can tell) directly give money to Ariel. Yet there is a high probability that some of Ariel’s activities draw on research which the EU is financing.

An IAI “expert” sat on a panel that advised the EU on what to prioritize in nanotechnology research between 2010 and this year.

IAI has supplied warplanes used to bomb civilians in Gaza and surveillance equipment installed along Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank.

If the EU was serious about standing up for Palestinian rights, it would refuse to have any dealings with such companies. Instead, the Union is allowing them dictate the agenda for spending programs in which they are participating.

This sordid affair encapsulates how the EU’s policies towards Israel are characterized by both confusion and cooperation. The timid guidelines that the EU introduced in 2013 have not reduced either.

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David Cronin

David Cronin's picture

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His latest book is Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War (Pluto, 2013). His earlier book is Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto, 2011).