The ban put out

(To Marco Pasquali)

The most important Italian universities (Rome, Turin, the Normale di Pisa, the Statale di Milano) are boycotting the cooperation agreement between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI) and the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology (MOST) for the Israeli side. They do it out of solidarity with Gaza and the attitude of the individual rector and academic senate is ambiguous, but the fear remains that some of the research foreseen by the call could have developments in the military field.

In the motion of the Normale of Pisa it is stated “the need to inspire research and teaching activities in compliance with article 11 of the Constitution, which prescribes the repudiation of war as an instrument of offense against the freedom of other peoples and as a means of resolving international disputes”. This is why he is committed “to exercise maximum caution” in evaluating institutional agreements scientific collaborations “which may concern the development of technologies that can be used for military purposes and the implementation of forms of oppression, discrimination or aggression against the civilian population, as is currently happening in the Gaza Strip”. But at this point let's see what the announcement that has split the Italian university provides. It is published on the MAECI official website1 and it reads like this:

The submission of joint Italian-Israeli research projects in the following research areas is requested by Wednesday 10 April 2024 (16.00 pm, Italian time):

1. Technologies for healthy soils (ie – novel fertilizers, soil implants, soil microbiome etc.)

2. Water technologies, including: drinking water treatment, industrial and sewage water treatment and water desalination

3. Precision optics, electronics and quantum technologies, for frontier applications, such as next generation gravitational wave detectors

The official text is strangely written in English without translation, while all the rest of the long document (15 pages) is in Italian and contains a long series of administrative provisions: in total 11 joint projects will be selected with the maximum total funding of 1,1 million euros. For each individual project, the MAECI finances a maximum of 200 thousand euros and in any case no more than 50% of the costs indicated in the estimate. Research projects will have a maximum duration of two years with the Ministry co-financing the costs of personnel, travel, materials and equipment, expenses for publications, consultancy and general expenses.

Now trying to understand the text in English, point 1 talks about agricultural technologies (new fertilizers, soil systems, microbiome, solar panels), while point 2 focuses on water technologies (drinking, waste water treatment and /or coming from industrial plants, desalination). Point 3 instead talks about precision optics, quantum technologies for experimental applications in the development phase and not yet available for commercial uses2, such as next-generation gravitational wave detectors. A dutiful official translation (the MAECI is an Italian state body) or at least a bilingual text would unambiguously benefit the understanding of the content, but the point is another: There is no mention of research in the military field in the text. And in fact in the student motion - highly ideological, needless to say - scientific collaborations are alluded to “which can relate to the development of technologies that can be used for military purposes”. Which? Not so much those focused on fertilizers (point 1) but rather those that concern precision optics and electronics (point 3), while honestly I don't have the skills to establish whether experimental quantum technologies for the development of future gravitational wave detectors may have a real connection with the military industry. However, in the announcement strangely there is no mention of aerospace, which is instead the classic field of dual use of frontier technology.

Noemi Di Segni, president of Ucei, replies to them by calling it a "boycott" of Israeli universities "the most absurd thing we have heard claimed" is "it does not favor dialogue, peace, knowledge and in-depth analysis, whether towards Israeli universities, individual teachers, or even subjects of the Jewish religion".

And here we come to the point: in the announcement there is no direct trace of what was feared because the research and development of military technology between Italy and Israel does not pass through the university, but is rather linked to large industrial defense and aerospace groups, such as Leonardo and their related companies. For defense Italy can only be part of alliances, and these choices have been made since the post-war period. It is normal for allies to exchange information, technologies, researchers and material means. Those who believe that the export of military technology is covered by state secrecy should know that everything is officially published by Parliament. For 2021, for example, just read the 1628-page document, available online and entitled:



CONTROL OF EXPORT, IMPORT AND TRANSIT OF MILITARY MATERIALS (Year 2021) / (Article 5 of law 9 July 1990, n. 185) / Presented by the President of the Council of Ministers (DRAGHI)

Communicated to the Presidency on 5 April 2022

There really is everything and we invite anyone who has doubts on the subject to study it. In the last ten years, Italian companies have sold military technology and armaments to Israel for 120 million euros, but purchases reach almost 250 million, despite ups and downs3. In 2022, Israel received weapons from Italian companies worth almost 9,3 million euros. However, Israel is only part of the whole: in 2022, Italian companies exported weapons to the world for a total value of around 5,3 billion euros. This sum includes the costs of intermediation between the various countries, licenses and sales authorizations. Overall, the value of authorizations for the sale of weapons amounts to approximately 3,8 billion euros: the first country to which Italy sold weapons in 2022 was Turkey (598,2 million euros), followed by the United States (532,8 million) and Germany (407,2 million). But complicating the problem is the reality of a variety of “dual use” research and products. Advanced technology has repercussions in both the military and civil fields: just think of electronics, information technology, telecommunications, aerospace, the development of semiconductors, to the point that it is difficult to make discriminations except with regards to weapons real. Therefore the term "military technology" should not be understood in an absolute sense.

In the second part of the document there is also the official list of Italian companies that have sold weapons and military technology. Among these we find Leonardo Spa, the main Italian company in the military and aerospace sector, controlled by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the Defense Industries Agency, controlled by the Ministry of Defence. But the list is long and also includes small but very specialized industries. Leonardo However, it has strong ties with Israel, but this is in turn linked to the alliance with the West4. On June 21, 2022, the company at the head of the national military-industrial complex announced that the US subsidiary Leonardo DRS and the Israeli company RADA Electronic Industries Ltd. (a leading supplier of military tactical radars and advanced software) have signed a binding merger agreement. In particular Leonardo DRS will acquire 100% of the share capital of RADA in exchange for the assignment of 19,5% of its shares to the current shareholders of the Israeli company. The publicly held Italian group, through its US subsidiary Leonardo Holding, will continue to own 80,5% of the combined company. Upon completion of the transaction, expected by the end of 2022, Leonardo DRS will be listed on both the NASDAQ and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange under the symbol DRS.

The company will focus on four strategic sectors: advanced sensing, computer networks, force protection, electricity and propulsion systems, focusing in particular on the development and production of short-range “air defense” systems to counter attacks with drones, missiles, artillery and mortars, as well as equipment for the protection of combat vehicles . This is all official. On the other hand, 2023 marked the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Italy-Israel memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the military sector, an agreement which places particular attention on the exchange of armament material, the organization of the armed forces, the training and personnel training and research and development in the industrial-military field. The collaboration between the Israeli and Italian armed forces has developed particularly in the sector of air exercises5. It is useless and hypocritical to be surprised at this point by a consolidated reality sanctioned by precise formal agreements stipulated over twenty years under the US and NATO umbrella.6.

And now let's move on to the second part of the discussion: obstructing scientific research and/or culture is not only that undemocratic, but counterproductive, and on this the UCEI (Union of Italian Jewish Communities) was firm, speaking through the president Noemi Di Segni: “I am against the academic boycott of Israel. Collaborations between universities, between communities of scientists, between students are important. They are an opportunity for meeting and dialogue to understand different approaches. If you want to build a more peaceful future, boycott is not the way to go."7.

We can only endorse these words: we always have to deal with different visions of the world, perhaps even arguing. Scientific and cultural research ultimately promote interaction, exchange, social and political growth. Precisely for this reason it should not be hindered or censored in the name of ideology.



  2. View : Frontier Apps means medical imaging prototypes for post processing which are still under development and not commercially available yet and which are licensed



  5.,6843 , where the original text precedes the various comments.