Trinity has commenced a review of its relations with third-level institutions in both Israel and Palestine, Trinity News has learned.
Academic secretary, Patricia Callaghan, is currently conducting the audit, which concerns the “formal and informal relationships currently in place between the university and institutions in Israel and Palestine” across all schools. Vice provost and chief academic officer, Professor Linda Hogan, informed the College Board of this update at a meeting on September 16.
Ronit Lentin, a retired associate professor in Trinity’s Department of Sociology, spoke to Trinity News on behalf of Academics for Palestine (AfP), an Irish group committed to the academic boycott of Israel and the support of Palestinian universities. She welcomed the audit, stating that the group hopes that Trinity’s review of its involvement with Palestinian universities will result in greater collaboration between Ireland and Palestine in higher education. However, she said that AfP are “not really interested in a balance” in Trinity’s relationship with Israeli and Palestinian third-level institutions and that ideally the audit will result in Trinity severing its ties with Israeli universities. “We don’t think that it is enough for Trinity to say that it will support both… because Israel is engaged in an illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and discriminates against Palestinians. It would be to balance something that is essentially unbalanced,” she said.
In a statement to Trinity News, a representative from the Israeli embassy in Ireland said that they “hope that Trinity maintains academic relations with Israel,” as it would be “a moral travesty to boycott such a country, whilst saying nothing about other countries in the region who oppress or murder their own people.” They said also that students should remember that “a huge amount of mobile phone technology and pharmaceutical drugs,” which they “take for granted every day, were invented in Israel, and also that Israel has the highest number of people with PhDs per head of population in the world and the highest number of published scientific papers per head of population in the world.” Israel, they continued, “is a country that Irish academia should see as a model, not a country to boycott.”
The move to carry out the review comes after numerous student initiatives campaigning for College to cut its academic links with Israeli institutions over the past three years. These campaigns gathered considerable momentum following the emergence of claims that Trinity academics had partaken in EU financed aerospace and security projects with Israeli manufacturers of drones and weapons.
In an investigation conducted by AfP in February 2014, it was found that Irish universities had collaborated with Israeli institutions on 257 academic projects, including seven listed as “security” and a further 13 categorized as “aerospace.” AfP’s examination of EU documents found that Trinity academics had participated in an airport security project with Israeli drone manufacturers, Elbit Security Systems, alongside a separate project with Israel’s International Security and Counter-Terrorism Academy. Furthermore, Trinity’s Biomedical Sciences Institute continues to maintain a partnership with the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, which is known to have furthered the country’s nuclear weapons programme.
One of the campaigns established in Trinity was the Apartheid-Free Campus Campaign. Led last year by former PhD student Ciaran O’Rourke, the initiative paid tribute to the on-campus activism against apartheid of Mary Robinson and Kader Asmal, among others, in the 1980s. The campaign sought to highlight what it perceived as a discrepancy in Trinity’s sense of pride in those activists’ achievements and the university’s simultaneous links with academic institutions with military contracts in Israel.
The Apartheid-Free Campus Campaign received the support of Trinity’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) last November in a motion passed by 33 of 56 votes at the union’s council meeting.
At the end of the 2014/2015 academic year, members of the campaign delivered a petition to the College Board calling for board members to end College’s research affiliations with firms that operate in or provide security services for Israeli occupation zones in Palestine, and to cut ties with Israeli institutions that deny equal right to Palestinian academics and have not condemned Israel’s “illegal policy of occupation and settlement in Palestine.” According to O’Rourke, the campaigners received no acknowledgement of the petition from the board.
Speaking to Trinity News, O’Rourke said: “If Trinity is serious in its commitment to even minimum standards of respect for human rights in its educational programme for the future, then it cannot continue to sustain a culture of academic complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity, especially for the sake of a nebulous ‘academic freedom’ that denies the basic entitlements of the Palestinian community, academics and civilians alike.”
Leaders of pro-Palestinian campaigns within Trinity welcomed the audit but stressed the need for continued action. Oisin Vince Coulter, who lead a group of students in lobbying College and the Students’ Union to adopt a stance in support of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, said of the audit: “I welcome the basic recognition from the board that our links to Israeli universities is a serious problem, especially in the context of the military applications of our research links.”