Sep 22, 2010

#BDS: The science ambassador

At a recent dinner with the British envoy, the emphasis was on the British-Israel Research Exchange program, which came as a partial response to the boycott calls in the UK.

Only two days after his arrival in Israel to take up his post as the British ambassador last week, Matthew Gould hosted a small dinner at his residence to honor the work of BIRAX, the British-Israel Research Exchange program which was set up just two years ago. In his opening remarks, Gould emphasized the importance of focusing on scientific links, especially in a period when voices are continuously heard supporting an academic boycott of Israel amongst a small, but radical and vociferous, group of British academics.

The BIRAX program, which is mostly funded by private donors in the UK has already been responsible for bringing small groups of highlevel scientists from the two countries together. The respective ambassadors, Ron Prosor in 
London and Tom Philips in Israel (Gould’s predecessor) were active in bringing their respective governments into the project. In terms of scientific funding, the projects are small scale, but they serve to bring scientists together to discuss ideas and share knowledge as a means of creating larger project proposals which are then submitted to the international funding agencies.

As was clear from the participants at the dinner, it also enables, as an offspin of the scientific endeavor, researchers from both countries to visit each other and get a better understanding of the complexities of the social and political situations within which each, but especially the Israeli scholars, live and work. While the projects are not intended to directly influence the political beliefs of the scholars, it is clear that the joint meetings and discussions enables a more balanced understanding of the complexities of the situation in Israel, vastly different to the one which has been disseminated by the pro-boycott faculty in the UK.

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