Science in the Service of Politicians

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To the EU bureaucrats in Brussels it must surely seem like a victory. They have succeeded in imposing on Israel their demand that scientific cooperation of Israeli scientists with EU scientists, within the framework of the Horizon 2020 program, will be limited to Israeli institutions inside the 1949 armistice lines, and to research within those lines.

In time this EU decision will no doubt be seen as another signal that Europe is on the decline. Regressing to a “science policy” reminiscent of that practiced by the Nazi and Soviet regimes, which did not permit their scientists to cooperate with certain scientists in foreign countries, will be a black mark against the EU, and of the lady leading the charge against Israel, Catherine Ashton.

Ashton has been very busy lately, having led the P5+1 delegation in its negotiations with Iran in Geneva. That, as well, is not exactly a success story. Her appointment as the EU’s foreign minister came as a surprise to many. The former editor of BBC Radio 4’s program, Rod Little, wrote at the time about her, “never elected by anyone, anywhere, totally unqualified for almost every job she has done.” She has yet to prove herself in her present position. Having had no scientific training herself, she may be excused for not understanding the full implications of the policy she has pushed down Israel’s throat.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who has a doctorate in physical chemistry and is a former research scientist herself, surely understands that the EU’s policy in this matter is grossly mistaken, and was probably never consulted on the matter by the Brussels bureaucrats or by Ashton. Trying to attain political goals by imposing limitations on scientific research is in the end counterproductive.

The Brussels bureaucrats may be under the impression that the scientific research conducted by scientists in Europe is gargantuan when compared to that carried out in tiny Israel, within and outside the 1949 armistice lines, and therefore the damage that might be caused to the EU by excluding Israeli scientists from the Horizon 2020 program can be considered negligible. But on that score as well they are completely wrong.

You need to look no further than the list of recent Nobel laureates in the sciences to realize that the weight and quality of scientific research carried out in Israel compares quite favorably to that of the accomplishments of scientists in the EU, not to mention Israel’s astounding success in start-up ventures, completely overshadowing similar ventures in Europe. Isolating themselves from the research carried out in Israel can hardly be worth the “political points” the Brussels bureaucrats thought that they might score by the sanctions they wanted to impose on Israel.

That leaves us with the Israeli government’s decision to succumb to Ashton’s ultimatum. From the point of view of the monetary cost-benefit ratio Israel presumably comes out ahead. The chances are that the inflow of funding for Israeli research from the Horizon 2020 program will exceed the monetary contribution Israel will be obliged to make as a member of the program.

But can the cost to Israel be measured only in monetary terms? How about the cost to Israel’s image and the feelings of all those Israelis residing beyond the 1949 armistice lines? And the cost of the precedent set by this ignominious retreat from the positions held by successive Israeli governments regarding the Israelis residing beyond the 1949 armistice lines? A proper accounting of the cost-benefit of the government’s decision may well turn out to be a substantial net loss.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.Credit: Reuters

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