The British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould on Wednesday received an honorary doctorate from Ben Gurion University of the Negev and took the opportunity to criticize academic boycotts and praise Israeli universities for their excellence.
“Everything we do is an expression of our values, and it is through our actions that we give voice to those values,” Gould told the assembled crowd at the university Beersheba campus. “Like our rejection of academic boycotts, because we believe that boycotts divide people and reduce understanding, when what we need is to bring people together.”
Academic freedom is the essential underpinning of any liberal and tolerant society that values knowledge and encourages debate, he added.
Gould noted that the British Embassy had launched seven major research programs between Britain and Israel in 2012. And in 2011, he said, a regenerative medicine initiative brought together 200 British and Israeli academics at the university.
“Our mission, of building scientific and academic links between our nations, is deeply unwelcome to some, who would rather go down the route of boycott than engagement.” Gould continued. “My government has stood firm by this mission, in part because of the knowledge that universities in Israel are places where the measure that counts is excellence, not agreement.”
The widespread international call for an academic boycott of Israel has in the past been taken up by UK institutes, but the latter recently faced charges that it such measures are motivated by anti-Semitism.