Cambridge reacts to controversial multi-million fund for Israeli post-doc fellows

Just when you thought controversy had ceased

donation gaza Israel israeli fellows len blavatnik Palestine

A new multi-million pound pledge to fund Israeli scientists conducting postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge has led to an outpour of condemnation from students and organisations alike.

The Blavatnik Family Foundation made the donation, spearheaded by Len Blavatnik, Ukrainian-American oil tycoon and one of the most conspicuous members of the elite circle of oligarchs who are key players in the current Russian financial crisis.

The program will appoint three Israeli Fellows a year, awarding each an annual stipend of £60,000.

Len Blavatnik has a real time net worth of $18.8 billion according to Forbes

Len Blavatnik has a real time net worth of $18.8 billion according to Forbes

The decision comes in direct opposition to the open letter condemning Israel’s blockade of Palestine released last term, signed by 55 academics.

The University of Cambridge Palestine Society (PalSoc), who organised a protest against Daniel Taub’s appearance at the Union the same month, has also been angered by the move, dubbing the donation “ironic”.

A spokeswoman for the society, Zayna, said:

“At the same time as these prestigious fellowships are being awarded to Israeli scientists, Palestinian universities will be struggling to rebuild themselves again after the latest onslaught by Israel on Gaza.

“This scheme would effectively help scientists who might be directly linked to serving the Israeli military agenda responsible for killing more than 2,100 Palestinians in the latest assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has claimed 1,195 Israeli and 9,126 Palestinian lives since September 29, 2000

“We believe that Cambridge University should be a platform to spread peace and encourage innovative science to serve humanity rather than hosting scientists servicing a military state which is under ICC investigation of possible war crimes against humanity.”

The first three fellowship recipients have already been chosen by a committee of senior academics, and have begun their research in Cambridge in the fields of engineering, genetics and physics respectively.

Josh Goodman, a 3rd year Classics student, reacted with displeasure to PalSoc’s “accusations”: “I find it depressing that people so often feel the poisonous need to politicise every news item about Israel, however positive it may be.

“This is an initiative that any student or academic should welcome.”

Edgar Sait-Jones, a 2nd year Engineer who participated in the PalSoc protests, said: “It’s agreements like these between our institutions and those of Israel that promulgate the idea that everything is absolutely fine with what is happening in Palestine.”

Edgar was at the forefront of the passionate protests conducted outside the Union last term

Edgar was at the forefront of the passionate protests conducted outside the Union last term

“The current regime of Israel and its actions shouldn’t be given a leg to stand on, but this kind of gesture brushes recent atrocities under the carpet.”

This is not, however, the first time that a large donation has been accepted by the University has raised ethical concerns – in 2008 a Saudi prince donated £8m to the University, money originating from a country where women are not allowed to drive.

Joshua Gertner, a spokesman for the Israel Society, had the last say: “We hope one day both Israelis and Palestinians can contribute to the thriving intellectual life in Cambridge without preposterous accusations that either are complicit in war crimes.

“Rather than seeking to deny access to academia on the basis of nationality, we should celebrate the breakthroughs that Israeli research has achieved in the medical and scientific fields, which benefit us all.”

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