Brussels university to end AI project with Israeli institutions

Brussels university to end AI project with Israeli institutions
Credit: Belga / James Arthur Gekiere

The Free University of Brussels (VUB) wants to end its cooperation with two Israeli institutions in a scientific research project on artificial intelligence, the university announced on Wednesday.

The decision follows a negative evaluation by the university's ethics commission. The VUB said it would enter into talks with the European Commission, which is funding the project, to withdraw from the project.

This week, the VUB announced that it wanted to be more transparent about ongoing collaborations with Israeli institutions or companies in light of "the unacceptable escalation of the conflict in the Middle East".

As in other Belgian universities, students at the VUB have organised several actions in solidarity with Palestine in recent months. On Monday, the university's chancellor met with students to discuss their protests.

At the moment, there are no occupations taking place at the VUB. On Monday, students at the University of Ghent occupied the entrance hall of a building, and students at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) followed suit on Tuesday.

The VUB wants to thoroughly review all ongoing research projects with Israeli partners and decide whether to continue the collaboration on a project-by-project basis. A total of seven projects are at stake.

The university said this approach will allow it to provide full transparency on its ongoing collaborative projects under the European Horizon programme. Through this programme, the European Union funds research in which Israeli institutions can also participate.

These international projects sometimes involve more than 100 partners. "None of these projects have any link to military applications," said VUB communications advisor Peter Van Rompaey.

Of the seven projects involved, VUB is completing three in the short term, and three others have a longer duration. They include two medical research projects on breast cancer screening and patient care and a project on legislation against child abuse.

A seventh project on artificial intelligence has now received a negative evaluation from the university's ethics commission. VUB stressed that it has no bilateral cooperation with Israel.

The university screens its partnerships based on the country or region's involvement in a conflict, the institution's position on the regime and the conflict, the nature of the research, and whether the results could be used or misused for military purposes.

In addition to these exclusion criteria, there may also be reasons to support dissident, independent and critical researchers in Israel, the university said. "We should not equate institutions in Israel and Israeli researchers with their government," Van Rompaey said.

The university also said it was continuing its partnerships with Palestinian institutions. "We want to contribute to the reconstruction of higher education in Palestine as soon as possible," Van Rompaey said.

Copyright © 2024 The Brussels Times. All Rights Reserved.