In addition, many Israeli companies and businessmen see the United Kingdom as an attractive place to grow and expand their businesses. The UK, as an international financial hub, is the doorway to a world of opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs. More than 200 Israeli companies have set up operations in the UK, and that number continues to rise. Another encouraging figure: close to 40 Israeli companies have already chosen the AIM stock exchange to raise capital, rather than the more expensive and distant option of the U.S.
I am well aware at the shock and anger felt here in Israel by recent attempts by a handful of British organizations, such as UNISON and the University and College Union (UCU), to push for a boycott of Israel, particularly given the warm relations between our two countries. It is important to remember that attempts to boycott Israel generally fail or have no real impact on the strong ties between Britain and Israel. The decision reached by the UCU in late May merely calls on members to consider a boycott of Israel, and does not actually impose a boycott of Israeli academia. The motion passed by UNISON in mid-June simply reiterated the union's long-standing policy on the Middle East & a policy that has not stopped UK-Israel trade relations, or academic links, from flourishing in recent years.
Remember, too, that these boycotts in no way reflect official British government policy toward Israel. UNISON and the UCU are totally independent. The UK government cannot interfere in the their internal deliberations, but we certainly do not support attempts to boycott Israel and have made that clear. We firmly believe that the best way to solve conflicts is through negotiations and inclusive dialogue. I, therefore, firmly believe that calls from some in Israel to impose a counterboycott on the UK are highly regrettable, and I am glad to see that these calls, like those in the UK, do not seem to have broad support.
What the UK government does support is encouraging ties with Israel in key areas, such as science, education, trade and industry. These are not just words, but concrete, continuous activities. Just last month, Britain's Minister of State for Higher Education, Bill Rammell, visited Israel to promote academic ties between our two countries. We also hosted a group of six senior British scientists who attended a conference on stem cell research at the Weizmann Institute. The UK government last year sponsored a visit by our most famous scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking, to advance cooperation between our scientific communities. And we annually sponsor scholarships for Israelis to study in the UK under our Chevening Scholarship scheme.
The scope for continued cooperation between our countries is enormous, for example, under the European 7th Framework Program. Under the 6th Framework Program, in which Israel participated as an Associated Country, there were 262 projects featuring UK and Israeli partners with contracts to the value of 1.5 billion euros. I encourage Israeli companies to keep on investing in the UK, and British companies to realize the huge R&D, investment and business opportunities that exist in Israel.
We now have a new government in the UK with a new prime minister, who brings with him 10 years of experience as chancellor of the exchequer. Israel, and this region as a whole, remain a top priority for Britain. And that includes ensuring that the commercial relationship between our two countries continues to prosper.
Richard Salt is director of UK trade & investment at the British Embassy Tel Aviv.