Following a negative evaluation by its ethics committee, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) wants to end its collaboration in a research project on artificial intelligence involving two Israeli partners. The VUB is subjecting all ongoing research projects involving an Israeli partner to a thorough screening following the escalation of the conflict in Gaza. As previously announced, the VUB will assess its collaborations with institutions in Israel on a project-by-project basis. A total of seven projects are affected.

The VUB wants to offer full transparency about its ongoing cooperation projects within the European Horizon programme, through which the European Union funds research that Israeli institutions can also participate in. These international projects can involve more than 100 partners in addition to the Israeli institution and the VUB. None of these projects has a link to military applications. Nevertheless, the VUB is now thoroughly evaluating them in light of the unacceptable escalation of the conflict in the Middle East. 

The university stresses that it has no bilateral cooperation with Israel.

Of the ongoing projects, three will be completed in the short term. Three other projects are of longer duration: two medical research projects on breast cancer screening and patient care, and one project on legislation against child abuse. Finally, there is a project on artificial intelligence. This project has since received a negative opinion from the ethics committee and we will be consulting with the funding European Commission to withdraw from the project.

Within the framework of the human rights test of the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR), collaborations are screened on three issues:

  • Is the country or region involved in a conflict?
  • What is the institution’s position towards the regime and the conflict?
  • What type of research is involved and can the results be used or misused for military purposes?

The VUB adds that in addition to these exclusionary criteria, there may be reasons to support dissident, independent and critical researchers in Israel. We should not equate institutions in Israel and Israeli researchers with their government.

The VUB also points out the complexity of severing ongoing collaborations. Any termination must be negotiated with the funding body, in this case the European Commission. 

Finally, the VUB stresses that it will continue its collaborations with Palestinian institutions and wants to contribute to the reconstruction of higher education in Palestine as soon as possible.

Rector Jan Danckaert on pro-Palestinian student protests

Flemish universities assess every project using human rights test, rector tells De Zevende Dag

VUB-rector en voorzitter van de VLIR VUB rector and president of the Flemish Interuniversity Council Jan Danckaert gave an interview on  5 May to the TV programme De Zevende Dag about the pro-Palestinian protests at universities. Ghent University student Siska – a pseudonym – spoke on behalf of the protesting students and called for an academic boycott of Israel. She calls the universities complicit in the deadly violence in Gaza. Flemish universities oppose a general boycott. Jan Danckaert: β€œWe think that in Israel and Palestine we should let the moderate, reasonable voices have their say. There is a whole spectrum of voices. That’s why we want to look at it project by project, institution by institution.”

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