A report this week by BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones is the latest version of the ‘Israel as hi-tech miracle’ story to appear in the mainstream Western media (a topic that the BBC has itself previously covered).
While Cellan-Jones covers the standard Tel Aviv-based start-ups angle, he also ends up — albeit inadvertently — illustrating part of the rationale for the academic boycott campaign.
At Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, the BBC journalist meets Amir Shapiro, head of the robotics lab, who explains “that he’d learned a lot during [compulsory] military service” — “I designed armored vehicles, I learned mechanical engineering,” the scientist says.
Cellan-Jones continues: “Many of his students have arrived from elite army units where they’ve received scientific training, and the army is also a major source of funding for robotics research.”
The intimate connection between Israeli hi-tech firms and the military is well-documented, with the Financial Times describing the Israeli army’s military intelligence-focused Unit 8200 as the country “most successful tech incubator.”
In his video report, Cellan-Jones attributes the generation of ideas and money for research projects to “a combination of Israel’s strong universities and well-funded armed forces.”
On camera, Shapiro confirms that “most of the fundings for robotics currently is coming from the army” since “they have the most useful application [for it].”
Examples of the Israeli military’s “applications” for robots, as part of its violent control of the Palestinian people, include one intended to “spray tear gas” on “suspects during raids,” while in 2012 a colonel shared a “longer-term vision” of robots being able to “replace soldiers for routine and wearying tasks.”
Last November, Israeli academics and military officials came together at a Tel Aviv conference to discuss topics like “the use of robots by the Israeli Defense Forces.”
Interestingly, Cellan-Jones refers to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in his report, describing Israel as “under threat of boycott from the international community over its treatment of the Palestinians.”
That boycott campaign includes Israeli academic institutions like Ben-Gurion University that are deeply complicit in Israel’s brutal and discriminatory regime through close ties to the military and defense industry and participation in propaganda initiatives.