During a visit to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem today, the UK’s Minister of State for Universities and Science, the Rt. Hon. David Willetts, emphatically denied any boycott of Israeli academia in the UK, and sought to remedy Israeli perceptions of Britain as “an unfriendly or hostile place” to Israel or Israelis.
Meeting at the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus with leaders of UK and Israeli academia, Willetts addressed Israeli perceptions that he said contributed to “a decline in the number of Israeli students studying in Britain.”
“I reinforce the point about some of the perceptions in Israel about Britain, by saying emphatically that there are not boycotts of Israeli academics, or Israeli students, or British-Israel academic exchanges. Those would be completely wrong, and there is no [UK] university that is boycotting Israel," he said.
He continued, “When I try to make sense of the decline of numbers of Israeli students coming to study in Britain, I worry that part of it is the perception in Israel that Britain is an unfriendly or hostile place. And what we know from the measures that are taken is that, fortunately, Britain is one of the European countries that scores best on having very, very low anti-Semitism. Any individual example of anti-Semitism is unacceptable, but we pride ourselves on being an open and tolerant society.”
The Minister invited participants to explore ways to encourage a greater exchange of students and closer academic and research links between Israel and the UK. He suggested that "We need to change perceptions [of British attitudes to Israel]" and "build closer research links and academic exchanges, which will also lead to student exchanges.”
While at the Mount Scopus campus, Willetts met with Israel’s Minister of Education, Rabbi Shai Piron, and officials from the Hebrew University.
The President of the Hebrew University, Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, said: “The Hebrew University welcomes Minister David Willetts for these important talks on increasing academic and research cooperation, which are a hallmark of the strong UK-Israel relationship. We continue to see a healthy appetite for collaboration between our universities, which leads not only to joint research but also to improved understanding between our nations. Through initiatives such as the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX) program, we are continuing to strengthen our ties for the benefit of Britain, Israel and the world."
He added, "I hope that following this important visit, new platforms will be created for student and faculty exchange and the creation of joint research endeavors. Such new initiatives will enhance our bilateral scientific relations."