NewsVrije Universiteit Brussel cuts AI research ties with Israel for ethical reasons

Vrije Universiteit Brussel cuts AI research ties with Israel for ethical reasons

War in Israel. Illustrative photo
War in Israel. Illustrative photo
Images source: © East News | MENAHEM KAHANA

12:47 PM EDT, May 10, 2024

The esteemed Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Brussels has announced its intention to sever ties with Israeli entities in the realm of artificial intelligence research. This decision stems from the university's plan to request permission from the European Commission, the funding body for the project, to disengage from the collaboration, as reported by the Brussels Times.

VUB, a Flemish-speaking institution, is discontinuing its partnership with Israeli counterparts for "ethical reasons." Previously, the university had worked with two Israeli institutions on a project centred around artificial intelligence research.

The university's decision was influenced by a negative review from its ethics committee. In a formal statement, VUB clarified its aim to enhance transparency regarding its ongoing engagements with Israeli institutions or companies. This move comes against what the university describes as an "unacceptable escalation of conflict in the Middle East." Additionally, VUB mentioned that it would reevaluate its involvement in seven other joint projects with Israel, determining on a case-by-case basis whether these collaborations should proceed.

University Ceases Cooperation with Israel

VUB has declared its intention to ask the European Commission, the project patron, for the option to exit the partnership. These projects fall under the European Union's Horizon Europe program, which is dedicated to supporting scientific research and innovation. Israel is a participant country and is thus eligible for involvement in EU-sponsored research initiatives.

European Commission spokesperson Johannes Bahrke remarked that a partner's withdrawal from a project is not prohibited under EU rules. However, he noted that the university should brace itself for possible repercussions should the existing agreements include stipulations for such occurrences.

It's not just VUB that is witnessing a call to end collaborations with Israel. In recent weeks, campuses across Belgium have been the scenes of pro-Palestinian protests. For instance, University of Ghent students occupied their campus on Monday, whereas students from Universite Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), the French-speaking counterpart in Brussels, followed suit on Tuesday.

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