Western Academy's Hypocrisy: Sanctions against Russia but not Israel
Western universities, education ministries, higher education bodies, funding programs, science academies, and publishers have taken swift action in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Applying a double standard, higher education institutions have failed to end their complicity in Israeli apartheid.
In response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, a significant number of universities, education ministries, higher education bodies, funding programs, science academies, and publishers have taken swift and wide ranging measures to ensure their institutions were not complicit in Russia’s violations of international law.
The double standard was painfully evident to Palestinians, and to international scholars supporting Palestinian rights, who have long called on academic institutions to end ties with Israeli universities that are complicit in Israel’s decades-long regime of military occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.
Despite the fast growing number of academic societies, university departments, faculty unions and individual scholars supporting the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel, higher education institutions have failed to end their complicity in Israeli apartheid. What’s worse, some have ceded to external pressure from pro-Israel lobby groups, taking disciplinary measures against or revoking job offers to academics advocating for Palestinian rights as stipulated in international law.
In many cases, the language these acts of academic boycott used was strikingly similar to what Palestinian civil society calls for with the academic boycott of Israel. Though a few crossed the line into restrictions on individual scholars and students based on their identity and opinions.
The Palestinian academic boycott call is strictly institutional in nature and is based on complicity, not identity.
We urge scholars to work to ensure that the governments, institutions and academic associations listed below apply the same ethical principles and end ties with complicit Israeli academic institutions.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Germany, which is rife with anti-Palestinian racism and anti-democratic repression of speech on and advocacy for Palestinian rights, has led the way in taking academic measures against Russia in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
Just one day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Alliance of Science Organizations, Germany’s largest research funders, recommended “that academic cooperation with state institutions and business enterprises in Russia be frozen with immediate effect until further notice, that German research funds no longer benefit Russia, and that no joint events take place of an academic nature or those pertaining to research policy. New cooperation projects should not be initiated at the present time."
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) restricted German-Russian exchange programs and instructed “German universities to suspend all DAAD-funded project activities with partner institutions in Russia and Belarus,” stating, “There can be no normal relations with a state that is waging a war of aggression against its neighbouring country.”
Both the Technische Universität (TU) and Freie Universität (FU) in Berlin suspended cooperation and degree programs with Russian institutions. The TU Berlin president stated that, “the exclusively civil use of our research is a high priority for us and is non-negotiable. Wherever research is linked to the current Russian regime, this can no longer be guaranteed.” The president of FU explained that the university was breaking with its tradition of making “a distinction between political and academic interactions” in response to Russia’s “blatant breach of international law.”
The Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics shut down its eROSITA x-ray telescope on a Russian satellite.
The organization Scholars at Risk (SAR) expressed its support for measures by governments and institutions to cut ties with Russian institutions, saying the moves were “warranted to allow assessments aimed at ensuring that the activities do not constitute support for acts of aggression.” SAR, however, strongly cautioned against “overbroad or indiscriminate suspension or elimination of academic contacts and activities that may unnecessarily impair the academic freedom or well-being of scholars in or from Russia, who may themselves face retaliation for their opposition to the aggression or their support for Ukrainian colleagues, and who may be vital academic freedom allies in the longer term.”
Taking matters to an absurd extreme, the University of Milan-Bicocca announced it would postpone a course on the work of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, who died in 1881. The university backtracked almost immediately, following a substantial backlash.
Governments and Higher Education Bodies
The European Commission suspended cooperation with Russian research entities, announcing it would not enter into any new contracts or agreements under the Horizon Europe program and would suspend payments under existing contracts for both Horizon Europe and Horizon 2020. Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, commented, “EU research cooperation is based on the respect for the freedoms and rights that underpin excellence and innovation. Russia's heinous military aggression against Ukraine is an attack against those same values. It is therefore time to put an end to our research cooperation with Russia.”
The European University Association (EUA), representing more than 850 universities and national rectors’ conferences in 48 European countries, announced it would “cease contact and collaboration with any central government agency of the Russian Federation or any other country that actively supports the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” EUA called on its members to “verify and ensure that they only engage in new collaborations with organisations from Russia where these are clearly based on shared European values.”
The European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA) suspended “the membership of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.” ALLEA explained its “extraordinary measure,” stating that “the ability of these academies to act autonomously and independently from their governments has come into question – and therefore warrants this decision targeting only the institutional level.”
Canada’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry and Ministry of Health urged “research funding organizations under our responsibility—particularly Canada’s three research granting agencies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada—to refrain from entering into agreements with Russian research institutions.”
The Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science called on “all universities and higher education institutions to suspend their cooperation with institutions in Russia and Belarus” as “a clear signal that military aggression results in isolation from the international community.” The minister noted that the “request applies particularly to cooperation with parties affiliated to Russian and Belarusian state agencies."
Universities Estonia, which includes the Estonian Academy of Arts, Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Tallinn University, Tallinn University of Technology and University of Tartu, decided to halt cooperation with higher education institutions and research organisations in Russia and Belarus.
Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture recommended “that all higher education institutions in Finland stop cooperating with Russian education and science institutions.”
The French National Research Agency said it was “suspending its partnership with the Russian Science Foundation,” that it would no longer take part in multilateral cooperation “involving Russian or Belarusian institutions,” and would not fund projects involving Russian or Belarusian laboratories.
France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) also suspended “all new forms of scientific collaboration with Russia” and canceled “all forthcoming scientific events involving Russia.” The Association of Academics for the Respect of International Law in Palestine has since urged CNRS to reconsider scientific cooperation with Israel in line with the same CNRS principle that “science has no borders, but the values that all scientific communities hold and share cannot tolerate acts of aggression.”
The Irish Universities Association suspended faculty and student exchange programs, financial transactions and exchanges of research material, “[c]onscious of the role universities in promoting democracy and peace”.
In Italy, the Ministry of Universities and Research suspended all “bilateral projects between Italy and Russia …, as well as events, conferences and other activities.” The National Research Council (CNR) suspended missions in Russia and pledged not to renew agreements with Russian institutions. The National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) said it would not enter into new agreements with Russia and that it would suspend “all financial transactions, and any collaboration that may involve sensitive technologies such as quantum computing or aerospace research.”
Norway’s Ministry of Education suspended “all dialogue with Russian authorities” as well as “all institutional agreements between Norwegian and Russian education institutions.” The Ministry added that the “responsibility for the grave situation in Europe lies with the Russian authorities and the attack on Ukraine should also have consequences for research and education cooperation.”
The Conference of Rectors and Academy of Sciences in Poland urged all Polish universities and research institutes “to cease cooperation with government organisations in Russia and in countries that support the Ukraine invasion.”
Spain’s Ministries for Universities and for Science and Innovation suspended all scientific, academic and institutional relations with Russia and Belarus. The country’s Conference of Rectors of Universities (CRUE), Confederation of Scientific Societies (COSCE) and Federation of Medical and Scientific Associations (FACME) also called for freezing scientific cooperation with Russian state institutions.
Sweden’s Ministry of Education called for “immediate cessation of contacts and cooperation with state institutions in Russia and Belarus and for no new contacts or commitments to be initiated.”
The Swiss Conference of University Rectors, swissuniversities, recommended that “Swiss universities review their scientific collaborations with universities in Russia and suspend them” where scientific cooperation risks serving “to support the aggressive policy of the Russian government, which with this war of aggression violates fundamental principles of human rights, international law and basic European values.”
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK’s main university research funding agency, froze payments for nearly 50 grants for a total of tens of millions of pounds for projects involving Russia. The UK Ministry of Science, Research & Innovation later committed not to “fund any new collaborative projects with Russia” and to work to “respond appropriately” to Russian participation in multilateral organisations, “holding Russia to account for its actions while diminishing and isolating its influence."
Crossing the Line
Some higher education bodies, however, took actions that would penalize individual Russian scholars, researchers and students based on their identity and opinions.
Universities of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Dutch Research Council, the Dutch Federation of University Medical Centres, and The Young Academy suspended “[a]ll forms of partnership in education and research with Russia and Belarus.” The Dutch higher education authority pledged support for “Russian and Belarusian researchers, teaching staff, students and organisations that have spoken out against the invasion of Ukraine,” thereby creating a political litmus test and penalizing those who have not spoken out.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Sports in Lithuania said the country’s higher education institutions “have suspended all co-operation with the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus in the fields of education, studies and science.” The Minister, however , called for “strict restrictions” that would deny “Russian science and education institutions, their staff and students access to international funding, academic mobility programs and any form of cooperation in education and science.”
European Research Institutes
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, initially suspended Russia’s Observer status within the prestigious research institute, pledging not to engage “in new collaborations with the Russian Federation and its institutions.” CERN later suspended the participation of its scientists in scientific committees of Russian and Belarus institutions, including Russia’s Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR). It also revoked the Observer status of JINR at CERN and renounced its own Observer status at JINR. CERN stated, “The core values of the Organization have always been premised upon scientific collaboration across borders as a driver for peace. Therefore, the aggression of one country by another runs against the values for which the Organization stands.”
The European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser Facility (XFEL) published a statement underwritten by shareholders representing Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom stating it would “not start new agreements with Russian institutions and will suspend existing ones.”
The Australian National University suspended “all ties and activities with Russian institutions, indefinitely and with immediate effect.” ANU also recommended renouncing honorary appointments at Russian institutions “if it becomes something that the institution uses for publicity” as well as not undertaking “any Russian funded visits.” Western Sydney University suspended “all ties and activities with Russian universities and institutions effective immediately.”
Lithuania’s Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) terminated its cooperation agreements with Russian and Belarusian universities.
In Sweden, Stockholm University, Luleå University of Technology, and Lund University suspended collaborations and exchanges with Russian universities.
In the United Sates, the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees Arizona’s three public universities, instructed Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University to sell any Russian investments they hold as quickly as possible.
Colorado University said it was “taking steps to exit from its investments in Russian companies” and that cutting its investments was “the right thing to do” in order to “show our support for the people of Ukraine.” The university also said it was “not conducting research funded by Russian entities” or “sending funds to Russian entities as part of any research project.”
The prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ended its partnership with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology over the “unacceptable military actions against Ukraine by the Russian government” as “a rejection of the actions of the Russian government.”
Syracuse University issued a statement saying it is “getting rid of its financial investments in Russia” and would subsequently “have zero investments in Russia.”
Texas A&M University moved to sever ties with Russia, including student and faculty exchange programs, study abroad programs, and research-related agreements.
The University of Michigan pledged not to make “further investments in Russia” and to “move as quickly as practical to exit its remaining investments.”
Yale University pulled millions of dollars from Russian investments “eliminating all of the University’s financial exposure to the country.”
In the United Kingdom, Imperial College London said it would “not partner with the Russian state” and “ended the partnership we had with a majority state-owned Russian entity.”
The Russell Group, representing 24 UK universities, stated its support for “measures taken by the Government to stop funding for research programmes linked to the Russian state and institutional collaborators, without unfairly penalising individual students and academics,” saying its universities had “reviewed any collaborations or other links they may have had with Russia and are taking appropriate action."
The University of Warwick announced it would “review all our relations with Russian State institutions, with a view to terminating relations and contracts” including student exchanges.
The University of Reading committed to “review any activities that might support the government of Russia,” adding that care must be taken to “avoid actions that could injure members of our community or others, purely on the basis of their nationality or country of birth.”
In Scotland, the University of Edinburgh instructed its “investment managers to divest of all our Russian investment holdings at the earliest opportunity."
Reaction to support of the invasion by the Russian Rectors’ Union
A number of universities took action to end ties with Russian universities following a statement by the Russian Rectors’ Union pledging their universities’ support for the aggression against Ukraine.
The European University Association (EUA), after first announcing it would cease collaboration with Russian government agencies, subsequently announced it would suspend the membership of 14 Russian universities whose rectors signed the statement.
The Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) and the Conseil des Recteurs (CRef) in Belgium also “took the decision to formally suspend academic relations with universities that have signed this declaration.”
Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies suspended its relationships with those Russian institutions whose rectors signed the statement.
Universities UK, which includes 140 universities across the UK, suspended its Memorandum of Understanding with the Russian Union of Rectors (RUR).
The University of Glasgow suspended its partnerships with Russian and Belarusian academic institutions and all “Russian and Belarusian partner engagement across events or activities that the University is hosting or leading.”
The University of Nottingham ended “all formal links with universities in Russia, including current research projects, bilateral agreements, memoranda of understanding and any projects currently under development.”
The International Mathematical Union, which awards the prestigious Fields Medal, relocated its July international congress from Russia to online, clarifying that it would “be conducted without any financial contribution from the Russian Government,” that “[n]o official or representative of the Russian Government will be part of the organization,” and that all mathematicians would be “welcome to participate in the activities” of the congress.
The European Mathematical Society (EMS) recommended “that academic cooperation with state institutions and business enterprises in Russia are [sic] frozen and no new cooperations should be initiated at the present time. In response, a group of prominent mathematicians and EMS members called on the society to “apply the same universal principles it has so justifiably implemented with regard to Russia and to suspend academic cooperation” with Israeli institutional members.
Members of the Advisory Board for the Russian Quantum Center stepped down, stating, “[W]e do not want our advice and expertise to benefit directly or indirectly any government that is waging war.”
The Lancet’s SIGHT Commission on Peaceful Societies through Health and Gender Equality published a statement condemning Russia’s “indiscriminate use of weaponry” causing “catastrophic health impacts, especially on children, older people, and disabled persons, and social and economic disruptions that will be long lasting.”
The Lancet has, on more than one occasion, succumbed to external pressure and removed similar pieces on the devastating effects of Israel’s attacks and siege on the Palestinian population in the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip, including children.
The Journal of Molecular Structure, produced by publishing giant Elsevier, stopped “considering manuscripts authored by scientists working at Russian Federation institutions.” The editors clarified that the policy “applies solely to submissions with an author of any nationality based at a Russian Federation institution” and not “to Russian scientists working in other countries.”
In stark contrast to the boycott of Israel, the former editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) was willing to entertain a scientific boycott of Russia when he wrote on March 9, 2022: “The BMJ was against a boycott of Israel…but there does come a point where the dreadfulness of what is being done may override the high value placed on the ‘universality of science.’ Has Russia reached that point with the horror of what it is inflicting on Ukraine? Many would think so.”
Higher Education Companies
Companies providing higher education services also announced changes to their operations in Russia.
Times Higher Ed (THE) said it would “take steps to ensure that Russian universities are given less prominence” in its renowned university rankings system, as an “appropriate way to show that actions have consequences,” given that Russian universities’ performance was expected “to be impacted negatively by the actions of the Russian government.” THE also said it would take steps “to ensure that Russian universities are not using branding or other promotional opportunities offered by THE until further notice."
Netherland’s based scientific publisher Elsevier suspended all sales of its “products and services in Russia and Belarus,” except for “a few health products to support clinicians and health students in providing medical and patient care.”
A statement signed by 15 academic publishers, including ACS Publications, Apple Academic Press, Brill, Cambridge University Press & Assessment, De Gruyter, Elsevier, Emerald Publishing, Future Science Group, IOP Publishing, Karger Publishers, Springer Nature, The Geological Society, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, Thieme Group, and Wolters Kluwer, announced “the unprecedented step of suspending sales and marketing of products and services to research organisations in Russia and Belarus.” The publishers clarified that their actions were “not targeted at Russian researchers, but rather at research organisations in Russia and Belarus” and that they would “continue to publish and distribute manuscripts from authors in these countries.”
US-based “Massive Open Online Courses” (MOOC) platform providers Coursera and edX suspended content from Russian university and industry partners. Udemy said it would not pursue new business in Russia or Belarus.
Please let us know if you are aware of additional academic measures: [email protected]