BBC report on Israeli hi-tech bolsters case for boycott

BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones promotes Israel as a “start-up nation.” (Screenshot)

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.




Israel uses “aid” money from USA and Britain and Canada to fund Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine and Syria and its military campaigns, which in turn serve as an laboratory to develop weapons, surveillance technology, and tactics of population control…

***** that are then marketed across the globe.



NYDP Sanchez told colleagues he had borrowed the idea from Israeli’s illegal methods of controlling the military-occupied West Bank, the swath of land Israel stole from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.

But the proposal ignored some important differences between the U.S. and Israel. Brooklyn and Queens, for instance, were not occupied territories or disputed land. There was no security wall being erected in New York City. (yet)



Ben: what you should know, (I worked in this area for years as a reporter) is that mostly all of the greatest inventions in biotech in the world (scanners to detect cancer for instance) come from military-funded research. Renewable energy research also is done by military/space groups too. So if you are anti-war or military of any kind then moving into a cave and not enjoying the world's technologies might be your best way forward.

And as I have an intimate knowledge of the Israeli hightech scene, you might want to turn off and boycott your computer immediately. I covered 20 of the greatest minds in Israeli tech (link at the end). Some new things to boycott would sadly need to include color TV, PV panels for solar energy, data compression, flash memory, semi-conductors, ethernet... the list goes on. These are not trivial contributions.

People that want to survive are complicit in developing military capabilities. Why do you think Switzerland is such a friendly country?

I am pro-peace, and pro-democracy. I am pro-Palestinian, and pro-Israeli. I am sick of these tired boycott arguments by hypocrites. Peace is happening, but not this way.


As I'm sure know from your previous contacts Israel has a long history of stealing whatever it wants, whether it be land belonging to the Palestinians, nuclear triggers, enriched uranium, software or simply the truth as in USS Liberty, Israeli nuclear weapons, massacring Egyptian POW's, reasons for the last strike on Gaza, arm twisting to prevent facts detrimental to the Israeli 'image' from appearing in mainstream media .. meanwhile "Avigdor Lieberman’s Internet Fighting Team will write social media responses that will look personal but will be based on a prepared list of messages that the Foreign Ministry developed.”

I also am tired of Israeli apologists claiming they are whiter than white. Israel is the most dangerous rogue state on the planet as Likud pursues its empire ambitions with every weapon at its disposal including murder, theft, lies, intimidation.


I appreciate the caution on being complicit / hypocritcal because of the use of technical advances made by the Israeli high tech sector, but I'll be happy to do without their work, if sanctions/ boycotts will help adjust Zionist thinking toward their Palestinian neighbors. What else is there ---Diplomacy, reasoning and compassion don't seem to work? Besides, the Israeli's have no monopoly on brain power. If hi - tech business stops there, in time, it will spring up elsewhere--perhaps Switzerland.


Sorry To Burst your bubble that ‘ Israel ' invented everything and to turn of our computers:Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA (born 8 June 1955), also known as “TimBL”, is an English computer scientist known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989, and on 25 December 1990, with the help of Robert Cailliau and a young student at CERN, he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet. the next time someone tells you to not use google or facebook just remind them it was an ENGLISH MAN HOW MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO CONNECT TO THE NET IN THE FIRST PLACE.


Karin, you said: "I am pro-Palestinian, and pro-Israeli."
So if someone said in 1941: "I am pro-Germany and Pro-Allied-countries", that would be OK too?
I think historians today would call this person a spy, or maybe even a double spy / agent.

PN: In difficult times difficult decisions have to be made!


Karin, the link to your "report" (Israel fanpage?) shows a Top 10 list. None of them mentions military funding, only one (#10) is medicine related, four are invesment-based, and in general these are only ten (even less) inventors amongst tens of thousands inventors who contributed to todays communications. Oh, and how could you forget the invention of the cherry tomato?


Karin, I don't follow your logic. Because color TVs are nice we should oppose the boycott of Israeli-military funded research and live in caves? Those who supported the Delano grape boycott (1965-1969) didn't do so because they thought grapes were disgusting, but because they were disgusted by the conditions under which the grapes were grown and harvested. When farmworkers were granted a living wage, the right to unionize, and decent working conditions, those who had boycotted grapes stopped boycotting them. I don't read in Ben White's piece that he objects to technology, rather corporate-military collaboration that contributes to human rights violations.


"Karin, I don't follow your logic."

I doubt whether Karin does either, all Israeli apologists know they are wrong, the UN tells them they are wrong, International law tells them they are wrong, common decency tells them they are wrong, the only possible explanation could be that Karin is one of;

"Israeli students and demobilized soldiers PAID TO PRETEND they are just regular folks and leave pro-Israel comments on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other sites ... They will write responses that will look personal but will be based on a prepared list of messages that the Israeli Foreign Ministry developed.”

and no doubt she has already been paid for her 'illogical' Israeli Foreign Office approved comment!


Karin A. Kloosterman: "So if you are anti-war or military of any kind ..."
- Where did you get this from? Why this approach? Did you read the core BDS targets?

Karin: "mostly all of the greatest inventions in biotech in the world come from military-funded research".
- Prove this. Please give us the links to your reports. And specify whether you are talking Israel or worldwide. For now, we assume: not true (and worse: propaganda).

Karin: "I have intimate knowledge of the Israeli hightech scene". How did you get in there? Why should we think you are independent and critical? And for self-criticism: why, you think, did they let you in?

Ben White

Ben White's picture

Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian‘s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, and many others. He is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2009, Pluto Press) and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination & Democracy’ (2012, Pluto Press). Ben is a researcher/writer for the Journal of Palestine Studies.