In a move that Italian officials say aims to counter calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel, Italian researchers and academics will be meeting with their counterparts in Israel this week for a series of joint conferences and other cooperative events.
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A series of 10 simultaneous conferences will be held across Israel between Tuesday and Friday. Dozens of researchers will be sharing the latest discoveries in fields ranging from robotics to plastic surgery.
“It’s an unprecedented effort to respond concretely on a very delicate issue,” Francesco Talo, the Italian ambassador to Israel, told Haaretz. “We believe that research and universities should be free and open to dialogue and exchange.”
While the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Italy has been less successful than elsewhere in the West, it has been pushing for local universities to cut ties with Israeli institutions.
Earlier this year, some 300 Italian academics signed a petition calling on Italian universities to cancel cooperation agreements with Haifa’s Technion and other Israeli universities.
“We thought that the best answer would be action: to concretely do exactly the opposite of what some people ask us to do and bring a significant number of Italian researchers and academics to Israel,” Talo told Haaretz in a telephone interview on Sunday. “Everybody is free to say what they want, but we will respond with actions.”
Rome has frequently voiced its opposition to the BDS campaign. During a visit to Israel last year, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in a speech to the Knesset that whoever boycotts Israel “is boycotting himself” and “betraying his own future.”
New treatments for heart disease
The delegation to Israel will be the largest ever brought by Italy, including more than 60 researchers, as well as representatives of the Italian Conference of Rectors, which gathers the leaders of major Italian universities. The group will be led by Education and Science Minister Stefania Giannini.
The conferences will focus on different topics in the sciences and the humanities, including new treatments for heart disease; the use of robotics to help elderly and disabled people; the latest advances in plastic surgery; research into cures for rare diseases; bioethics, psychology and economics.
The conferences, most of which will be held in Tel Aviv, are free and open to the public, although some require registration.
On Thursday morning the entire delegation will gather at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, where three cooperation agreements in the fields of material sciences and biophysics between Italian and Israeli universities will be signed.
The events are meant to coincide with Italy’s national day, which falls on Thursday and will be marked with other celebrations, including the presentation in Israel of the recent Italian translation of the Talmud and a festival of Italian folk dancing in Tel Aviv.