Emanuele Dalla Torre

A significant achievement against the academic boycott in Italy

Italy is an important strategic partner for Israel in many fields of common interests. Since 2002, the governments of Italy and Israel jointly fund binational research projects aiming at the development of new technologies for the benefit of humankind. This year, the selected topics are soil health, water quality, and detector physics. Unfortunately, since the outbreak of the Gaza War, some Italian scholars are trying to sabotage this type of cooperation. They issued a petition falsely claiming that these projects could have “dual use” and serve to harm the Palestinian people. These attempts to isolate Israel have recently suffered a resounding defeat: the Italian Minister of Research and University, Prof. Anna Maria Bernini, rejected any call to boycott Israel. “Science should promote peace for the benefit of humankind. Universities should include and not boycott”, she said.

Until now, the minister had refrained from expressing a public statement against the boycott of Israel, letting universities act autonomously on this matter. But boycotting Israel, while keeping alive cooperation with countries such as Syria, Iran, and China, is unacceptable and borders antisemitism. Together with colleagues, we established a network of Italian professors who support scientific collaborations with Israel and demanded her to issue a public statement. Several institutions joined us in this request, including the Association of Italian Scholars and Scientists in Israel (AISSI), the Union of the Jewish communities in Italy, and many more. Last week, our request was positively addressed.

To achieve this goal, it was first necessary to think deeply about which messages would work best. We very quickly realized that a naive approach claiming that “Israel’s war against Hamas is the war of the Good against the Evil” does not make an impact. Italian citizens are rightly concerned by the human tragedy occurring in Gaza right now. They are shocked by the human suffering, which exists on both sides, and are not really interested in knowing who started the war, or who is right. Hence, we decided to focus our petition on what makes Israel fundamentally different then its enemies: Israel is a democratic country that supports scientific and technological advances, unlike fundamentalist Islamic terror groups like Hamas. Our message to the Minister highlighted the contribution of science to fostering international relations and benefiting humanity as a whole. The enemies of Israel are very successful in manipulating the progressive language to their own benefit, such as linking the Palestine-Israel war to critical theories of oppressed and oppressors. We too should learn to use this language.

The goal of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement is to isolate Israel and, sadly, they are quite successful. Many Israelis feel today that the world’s public opinion is against them and often think: “There is nothing we can do to change their mind. The entire world is full of antisemites.” I strongly oppose this approach: in the same way that Israel fights its armed enemies without fear, we should keep optimistic on our chances to influence the public opinion. The recent statement of the Italian Minister of Research and University proves that our actions can have an impact. I hope that our little success story will inspire more people, in the academy and outside, to engage in advocating for Israel in the world.

About the Author
Emanuele grew up in a Jewish family in Italy and moved to Israel at the age of 19. He studied Physics at Technion and at Weizmann Institute of Science. Emanuele also did research at Harvard University in the US and is now a professor of Physics at Bar-Ilan University.
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