Activists force Catalan authorities to scrutinize academic collaboration with Israel

More than 60 people occupied the offices of the Catalan Secretariat for Universities and Research to protest increasing collaboration with Israeli universities. Others rallied outside the offices.

Laura Arau

More than sixty activists occupied the offices of Secretariat for Universities and Research in Catalonia yesterday to protest a wave of newly-signed academic collaboration deals between the autonomous region of Spain and Israel.

The action forced representatives of the government body to agree to examine campaigner’s proposals aimed at ensuring the new deals do not benefit institutions and companies that participate in Israel’s occupation.

Timed to coincide with the annual Nakba Day, when Palestinians around the world commemorate the expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their lands beginning in 1947, the occupation lasted around thirty minutes — after which officials from the Secretariat for Universities and Research pledged to organize a meeting between Secretariat head Antoni Castellà and campaigners at which their proposals could be heard. Castellà had previously refused to meet with campaigners.

The officials also agreed to demands for greater transparency and stated they will publish details of recently-signed deals with Israeli universities.

“We will not be complicit”

The action was part of a campaign backed by more than 350 academics and university staff from Catalonia calling for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions due to their role in developing technology and methods used by Israel’s apartheid regime.

Several new research collaborations between universities and institutions in Israel and Catalonia have been agreed upon in recent months. Campaigners see these collaborations as efforts by center-right leaders to build closer ties with Israel ahead of the planned referendum on independence for Catalonia in November.

“We demand the suspension of relations between our universities and Israeli universities and higher education centers until such time as the State of Israel respects international law and UN resolutions,” argues the campaign statement,.

“The academic boycott has come about as a response to the unanimous support of Israeli universities for the policies of occupation and apartheid against Palestinians, which is materialized in close cooperation with the Israeli armed forces and discrimination against Palestinian students,” the statement adds.

The BDS Acadèmic per Palestina statement (BDS referring to boycott, divestment and sanctions) is backed by prominent academics including Joan Subirats, Josep Fontana and Arcadi Oliveres, the main student and trade unions in Catalonia and the No mes complicitat amb Israel platform of nongovernmental organizations and solidarity groups.

“We will not be complicit in the policies of colonization and apartheid to which Israel subjects the Palestinian people,” explained Laura Haurie, a spokeswoman for the campaign and professor at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, in a press release.

A petition calling for academic boycott has a total of 800 signatures from across the Spanish state.

Collaboration with apartheid

Campaigners told government officials that they should, at the very least, ensure that there is no collaboration with Israeli companies or universities based in illegal Israeli settlements, a step that the German government has already implemented.

Last June, the European Union announced new guidelines preventing any EU funding from going to Israeli entities based in illegal settlements following a campaign involving political parties, nongovernmental organizations, academics and students from across Europe.

Marcel Masferrer, an activist from BDS Catalunya, one of the groups involved in yesterday’s demonstration, told me that the day had been a success and would serve as a strong basis for future campaigning.

“We are very satisfied with the results of this action. But it is just the beginning of the end of complicity with Israel’s policies, so we need to keep up the pressure on our government if we really want these research and university agreements with Israel to be canceled one day,” he said.

“Israel is not our model for Catalonia”

In November, a delegation of Catalonian officials, including president Artur Mas and universities and research secretary Antoni Castellà, traveled to Israel and signed a range of research and business collaboration deals. They made many pro-Israel statements that appeared to ignore Israel’s apartheid policies as they did so.

A Catalan News Agency report about the delegation quoted Mas as saying he hoped to “learn how to build a knowledge economy” and that he had chosen Israel as “a model” and “as a partner for innovation.”

Many commentators and campaigners believe that Mas and other members of the ruling center-right nationalist Convergència i Unió party see Israel as a potential strategic ally for any future independent Catalonian state or in the event of a unilateral declaration of independence.

A statement published at the time by 36 civil society organizations denounced the delegation.

“We are extremely worried that these government figures are presenting Israel as a ‘model’ and a ‘reference’ for Catalonia … Occupation, colonization and apartheid are not our model for Catalonia,” the statement exclaimed.

Below is a video from yesterday’s action:


Michael Deas

Michael Deas's picture

Michael Deas is a Palestine solidarity organiser based in the UK.

He was formerly a campaigns officer with the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), the Palestinian civil society coalition that acts as the Palestinian reference of the movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. 

You can get regular BDS updates from the BNC by following @BDSmovement. Michael Tweets from @michaeldeas