Students call for end to pacts with Israeli institutions

The National Union of Moroccan Students (NUMS) has voiced its opposition to cooperation agreements between universities in Morocco and Israel, calling on the university community to condemn and reject the pacts, and the university authorities to retract them.

In a 23 September statement, NUMS said: “We express our absolute rejection of the shameful agreements concluded between Mohammed VI Polytechnic University [UM6P – private university] in Morocco and Ben-Gurion University [BGU] in Israel, and those that link the National School of Commerce and Management at Hassan II University of Casablanca [UH2C – public university] and the Faculty of Management at Tel Aviv University.

“We call on the concerned Morocco authorities to retract it and withdraw signatures, and we call on all students to express their rejection and condemnation.

“We call on all components of the university community, including professors, administrators and students to stand side by side in defence of the Moroccan university from the … schemes of normalisation with Israel aimed at making an unprecedented educational, cultural and security breakthrough in the history of our beloved Morocco,” NUMS said.

Israel and Morocco normalised diplomatic ties last year, establishing diplomatic cultural and commercial ties in December 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords brokered by the administration of former United States president Donald Trump.

Academic boycott

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a statement on 24 August which said Israeli universities were “an integral part of the system of colonialism and racial discrimination, and are implicated in its ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people and the peoples of the Arab region, as they play a key role in developing Israeli military and security repressive knowledge and techniques.”

PACBI called on the university community and Moroccan civil society to intensify local pressure on the university so as to “permanently cancel” the agreements.

Another organisation, the Moroccan Front for Palestine Support and Against Normalization (MFPSAN), issued a 1 October statement calling on Moroccans to resist “normalisation schemes with Israel through education institutions” and to publicise the Palestinian cause and the struggle of the Palestinian people.

“We pledge to continue the struggle until the normalisation decision is overthrown and a law is passed criminalising it,” the MFPSAN statement said.

University response

In a statement on the institutional website, president of UM6P Hicham El Habti said the university believed that pooling the skills of scientific and technological institutions in the two countries would have a “major impact on populations at local and regional levels”.

He said UM6P and BGU consider scientific research to be a “key element of development, especially in terms of sustainability”.

By mid-October, BGU and UM6P are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding to outline their collaboration on scientific research projects and student and faculty exchanges in the areas of agriculture, water, energy and ecological restoration.

The sustainability research partnership will be supported by global companies ICL (Israel) and OCP (Morocco).

Further collaborations

On 13 September, BGU signed an academic agreement with the International University of Rabat (UIR), a semi-public university in Morocco aimed at collaboration on joint research, teaching, student and staff mobility programmes, along with studies on the cultural heritage of Moroccan Jews.

UM6P also signed an agreement with Israel’s Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) to promote academic and technological cooperation, according to a statement on the HUJI website.

El Habti described it as “one of the first formal partnerships between universities from Morocco and Israel”.

According to HUJI president, Professor Asher Cohen, the collaboration between the institutions will include joint research and collaborative degrees, innovation on a global scale, and the exchange of publications and academic materials.

“We take pride in being one of the first Israeli universities to formalise a relationship with our esteemed Moroccan counterpart. We look forward to the many ways this collaboration will benefit our two countries and the region at large,” Cohen said.

University World News made efforts to contact UM6P, UH2C and UIR to obtain their views on how they will implement the academic cooperation programmes with Israel’s universities, including Tel Aviv University, BGU and HUJI, amid the opposition of Morocco’s university community, but received no response.