UCD’s ties with Israel: College spends €4,822,950.72 on collaborative research projects despite calls for a full academic boycott

Image Credit: Alvarez Garrido via Wikimedia Commons

Co-Editors Tessa Ndjonkou and Ilaria Riccio delve into UCD’s ongoing academic and financial ties with Israel amid continuous calls for a ceasefire and a complete academic boycott.

According to the Gazan Ministry of Health, the Palestinian death toll has now surpassed 25’000 casualties. Care International has reported that the miscarriage rate in Gaza has increased to over 300% due to Israeli bombings. Furthermore, it appears that there are no more functioning hospitals left in Gaza, and there are only six operational ambulances in the area. That these numbers have been amassed over a three-month period testifies to the gravity of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In light of these events, calls to bring Israel in front of the International Court of Justice in The Hague came to fruition as South Africa formally opened a genocide case against the state citing the 1948 Geneva Convention of Genocide. 

In the meantime, citizens globally have taken to the street to further voice their support for the Palestinian people. In many countries, especially in higher education institutions, efforts to adhere to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) campaign have been consistent and relentless. Most notably, the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union issued a joint statement with Trinity BDS “reaffirming their solidarity with the Palestinian people” and enacted a college blockade and an occupation in November calling for the severing of all ties with Israeli institutions. 

Similarly, University College Dublin Students’ Union has relentlessly campaigned for the university to take a firm stance condemning Israel’s actions. Several protests, culminating in the blockade of the N11 on 29th November, and a letter to UCD President Orla Feely have received widespread support, although neither had the effects it desired. Indeed, The University Observer found evidence that UCD still has relationships with Israeli universities, which are mostly financial ties through ongoing research projects funded by the college. 

Several protests, culminating in the blockade of the N11 on 29th November, and a letter to UCD President Orla Feely have received widespread support, although neither had the effects it desired.

The third issue of The University Observer released in November 2023 revealed a sharp dissonance between UCDSU and the wider student cohort’s opinion on the escalation in Gaza and the university’s stance as an institution. Notably, a statement by President Orla Feely left many within the UCD community disappointed at her - and, by extension, the college - refusal of taking a clear stance on the ongoing crisis. This is in contrast with what UCD did during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

Suspicions arose around the reason why the college has failed to take a firm stance on the escalation in Gaza. Many have speculated, that like its Dame Street counterpart, UCD may have remaining ties with Israel and thus cannot relinquish its support vocally. Members of UCD Academics for Palestine and the UCDSU had previously vowed to investigate these ties. 

Many have speculated, that like its Dame Street counterpart, UCD may have remaining ties with Israel and thus cannot relinquish its support vocally.

Data available on the Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) Network, testifies to the number of ongoing projects funded by the European Union’s framework programs for research and innovation. It is thanks to the CORDIS Network that The University Observer was able to find evidence of ongoing research projects carried out and funded by UCD in partnership with Israeli universities. To date, of forty-three research awards UCD has received alongside Israeli institutions, ten are active. Of these, there are two ongoing research projects carried out in collaboration with Tel-Aviv University, costing UCD €549,368.64 and €279,375.00 respectively. Notable also, is the collaboration with Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), on a research project costing UCD €274,684.32. 

To date, of forty-three research awards UCD has received alongside Israeli institutions, ten are active. Of these, there are two ongoing research projects carried out in collaboration with Tel-Aviv University, costing UCD €549,368.64 and €279,375.00 respectively.

The college’s collaboration with these institutions has raised concerns as Tel-Aviv University is involved in the development of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) “ethical code”, with particular attention in training their attorneys. On the other hand, Technion is known for its ties with Elbit Systems in arms research and surveillance. 

Figures generated by the CORDIS network and seen by The University Observer have revealed that UCD’s total funding of a project between the Foundation For Medical Research Infrastructural Development and Health Services in Tel Aviv and The University of Newcastle Upon Tyne amounted up to €1,484,050.00 for a total EU contribution of €25,395,897.00 and a total project cost of €49,911,564.15. The project entitled ‘Connecting Digital Mobility Assessment to Clinical Outcomes’ began in April 2019 and is set to end on June 30th 2024. 

A cross examination of all ongoing projects unveiled a trend whereby most, if not all, active projects were concentrated in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. 

Within the context of an ongoing armed targeting of civilians, such an investment in STEM-related projects fuels Israel’s already expansive military-industrial complex by allowing advancement and innovation in the military sector - of which the ongoing escalation in Gaza is proof. On 20th January, the last university in Gaza was bombed, leaving no remaining higher education institutions in the area. 

Within the context of an ongoing armed targeting of civilians, such an investment in STEM-related projects fuels Israel’s already expansive military-industrial complex by allowing advancement and innovation in the military sector.

The evidence collected on the CORDIS Network contrasts UCD’s failure to acknowledge any existing ties with Israeli universities. Specifically, President Orla Feely’s statement on UCD’s stance on the escalation in Gaza - or lack thereof - failed to mention Israel entirely. Whilst this is not an admission of guilt, it begs the question of why UCD would not admit its existing and public ties with higher education institutions in Israel. 

It is the existing ties with Israeli institutions that the UCD chapter of Academics for Palestine and BDS movement target with their campaigns. The BDS movement, a Palestinian-led movement promoting the boycott, divestment and economic sanctions towards Israel was born in 2005 and meant to enforce Israel’s abiding to demands set out by international law. Since the beginning of the crisis, the term “academic boycott” has become commonplace and is used to designate a complete cessation of collaboration with Israeli institutions of higher education to abolish academic complicity. In Academics for Palestine’s introductory statement they explain how academically supporting Israeli directly institutionally upholds a repressive apartheid regime through the military-industrial complex. 

The UCD cohort of Academics for Palestine has strived to uphold its tenets. For instance, at UCD’s first pro-Palestine rally in November 2023, Professor Kiernan Allen invited students to reach out to their Head of Schools and investigate potential ties with Israeli universities, and sever them. Furthermore, as already reported by The University Observer, a conspicuous number of UCD academics signed an open letter published in The Irish Times in November 2023; the aim of the letter was to further incentivise colleges across Ireland to cut all ties with Israeli universities. This firm stance by UCD’s academic staff was reiterated by Professor Anne Mulhall at a second pro-Palestine rally. Specifically, Mulhall said, “This is not a matter of policy or taking sides. We urge the president and the UCD governing authority to listen to the voice of conscience”. 

This clear condemnation of Israel by UCD academics epitomises the dissonance between what the UCD community wants and what UCD as an institution is currently doing. 

A core member of the UCD community, UCDSU sponsored what has been the biggest pro-Palestine demonstration in Ireland so far. On Saturday January 13th, Dublin saw the largest solidarity protest in support of Palestine since the beginning of the crisis last October. The rally organised by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) was supported by over seventy groups. Organisers estimated that approximately ten-thousand people participated in the demonstration. The protest began at the Garden of Remembrance and the procession marched onto the Department of Foreign Affairs on Stephen’s Green where various speakers were heard. 

On Saturday January 13th, Dublin saw the largest solidarity protest in support of Palestine since the beginning of the crisis last October. 

The crowd was marked by the significant presence of families and children. This was especially impactful considering that most civilian casualties in Gaza are under eighteen. Significant emphasis was put on the direct complicity of major powers in the Western world, especially in the United States. Joe Biden’s response to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza was heavily criticized and chants such as “Genocide Joe, you’ve got blood on your hands!” were chanted relentlessly during the afternoon. The relative inaction of the Irish government in the face of its historic claim of support of the plight of the Palestinian people was also pinpointed. On this regard, Ireland’s neutrality on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the ICJ has disappointed many in the court of public opinion, making the high turnout to the rally even more symbolic. 

The crowd was marked by the significant presence of families and children. This was especially impactful considering the percentage of civilian casualties under the age of eighteen in Gaza.

The Geneva Convention defines genocide as “a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part”, and we are witnessing it before our eyes. While the world watches South Africa demand accountability from Israel at the ICJ, the same scrutiny will be applied to UCD’s perceived complicity in Israel’s military-industrial complex.