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The Intifada Reaches The Ivory Tower:
European Scientists Are Calling For A Boycott Of Israel

Haaretz (Israeli daily; Thursday April 25, 2002)
By Tamara Traubman

The first time that the international scientific community imposed a boycott on a state was during the apartheid regime in South Africa. The second time is being considered at present, and now the boycott is directed against Israel and its policy in the [Occupied] Territories.

Several manifestos calling for the imposition of a boycott, on various levels, have been published in recent days by professors from abroad; a number of Israeli scientists have signed the manifestos, arousing a great deal of anger on Israeli campuses.

In the United States, students are applying pressure on the universities, demanding that they stop supporting companies and foundations that cooperate with Israel. The initiative began with students from the University of California at Berkeley half a year ago, and recently it has spread to universities such as Princeton.

Members of prestigious scientific bodies, such as the Norwegian Academy of Sciences, have condemned Israel's actions in the Territories, and criticized their Israeli colleagues for their indifference to the situation of Palestinian researchers, and the damage to academic institutions in the Palestinian Authority. According to Israeli diplomatic sources, steps to have Israel join several large European projects have been postponed until further notice - for example, accepting Israel as a member of a particle acceleration project at the CERN laboratory in Geneva. The contacts that began behind the scenes have been halted at this stage.

The Israeli scientists, usually half asleep and holed up in their laboratories, organized counter-manifestos calling for the continuation of cooperation with Israel, and the Israel National Academy of Sciences and Humanities (the most important umbrella organization representing the scientific community in Israel) has appointed a committee that will be responsible for this activity.

British Manifesto

The first manifesto published abroad was initiated by a pair of British researchers, Professors Hilary and Steven Rose of Britain's Open University. The manifesto suggests that European research institutes stop treating Israel like a European country in their scientific relations with it, until Israel acts according to UN resolutions and opens serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians. (Israel enjoys the status of a European country in many European research programs.)

The manifesto was signed by over 270 European scientists, including about 10 Israelis. Although it is the most moderate of the boycotts being formulated these days against Israel, the manifesto aroused a great deal of anger in the Israeli scientific community. Outstanding Israeli scientists such as Prof. Joshua Jortner, former president of the National Academy, sent letters of protest to The Guardian, in which the manifesto was published, and three researchers from the Hebrew University [HU], Dr. Eva Illouz and Dr. Aaron Ben Avot of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and Prof. Hillel Shoval from Environmental Studies, initiated a counter-manifesto that sharply condemns the British document.

Dr. Illouz believes that in the present circumstances, boycotts will not achieve their aim, but will rather arouse animosity toward the European position. She says that they are in total contradiction to the principle of academic freedom - one of the basic principles of scientific ethics. The Israeli counter-manifesto was signed by about 4,000 scientists from Israeli, the United States and European countries. Ben Avot says that "the signatories come from a wide array of opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ranging from members of `Professors for National Strength' to people who are usually identified with the left, such as Prof. Baruch Kimmerling."

The signers of the British manifesto believe that the anger against them is exaggerated, and that most of those who oppose the manifesto, which is written as an implied suggestion, either didn't read it carefully or didn't understand its content. Many of them, like Prof. Eva Jablonka, of the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science in Tel Aviv University, the first to sign the manifesto, report that they received hate e-mail as a result of the manifesto.

"I'm surprised that my colleagues don't read text," says Jablonka. "I received very emotional reactions, as though I am betraying them and personally working against them." According to her, "Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has the rights of a European country in the scientific community; the idea of the manifesto is that as long as Israel does not begin negotiations, a moratorium against its special privileges must be considered. None of the people who signed this manifesto are in favor of a sweeping academic boycott, canceling all relations; all the people I know who signed are people who care and want the State of Israel to survive, as an ethical country, as a country of peace."

Last Wednesday, the board of directors of the organization for professors and teachers in higher education in England, decided unanimously to call for a more sweeping boycott. The decision calls on all the British institutions of higher education to weigh - with the goal of severing - any future academic connection with Israel. It insists that such relations should be resumed only after a full withdrawal of all the Israeli forces, the beginning of negotiations to implement UN resolutions, and the promise of full access for all Palestinians to institutions of higher learning.

Mathematician Prof. Emmanuel Farjoun, who signed the British manifesto as well as a similar French one, and a manifesto of HU professors supporting the soldiers who refuse to serve in the Territories, agrees that the boycott is an extreme step. "Boycotts are the final step," he says, "when the situation is already very severe, like in South Africa, and here the situation is completely analogous, and moreover, here the Palestinians are not even citizens, and have been living for 35 years without basic rights."

Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, chief scientist at the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport, and Carmel Vernia, outgoing chief scientist at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, believe that at this point, diplomatic-formal agreements with the European community to which Israeli is a signatory, are not in immediate danger. "In the field of R&D, Israel is in a strong position," says Vernia. "Nevertheless, my feeling is that our position has been eroded. My fear is that in the final analysis, that will have an effect on the formal plane as well."

The Sixth Plan

Israel has signed a huge program for cooperation with the European Union, called the Fifth Plan. In the context of this plan, the EU participates in the funding of research with practical applications. The countries who are members of the plan invest a sum of money that gives the scientists a right to participate in a kind of tender for research proposals. Israel has invested almost 155 million Euros in the plan, and in return received a similar sum as a research grant for Israeli scientists. The advantage of the program, therefore, is not financial, but rather scientific cooperation, diplomatic recognition, and integration into the European market.

The Fifth Plan ends this year, and now the Sixth Plan is being formulated; several Israeli groups who are involved in the program said that signals sent by the Europeans testify to the fact that this time Israel will have a hard time joining it. Nevertheless, the assessment is that at the end, Israel will be allowed to join.

The most obvious expression of the isolation of the Israeli scientific community is the refusal of researchers to come here, for reasons of personal security. Whereas in the past Israel held many international congresses, says Gideon Rivlin, the chair of Kenes International, the principal organizer of such congresses, today there are no longer any international congresses in Israel." He says that occasionally one can find a few scientists who are willing to risk their lives and come to Israel, but that can't be called an international congress. "Until 2004," adds Rivlin, "all the congresses in Israel have been canceled."

"Many of them avoid saying that that's the reason, but in personal conversations it turns out that this is the case," says Prof. Hermona Soreq, a molecular biologist from HU, who is involved in organizing many conferences. Brain researcher Prof. Idan Segev, also from HU, says that scientists tend to refuse to come not only to scientific congresses, but also for joint research projects as well.

"At a conference abroad a short time ago, I met a friend with whom I've been working for many years; every year he comes to Israel for a few weeks to work with me," says Segev. "This year he told me openly, `I can't come, the moment I arrive, I am taking a political step.' For them it's like going to South Africa."

A committee appointed by the Israel National Academy, which includes academy president Prof. Jacob Ziv, his deputy, and the director of the international department of the academy, are alarmed by what they define as mixing politics and science, and are worried about the possible damage to academic freedom. Ziv sees a threat to the academic freedom of the Israeli scientific community, and a violation of "the principle that one doesn't mix science and politics ...Why punish Israeli science, the researcher who works in the lab, for what is being done in the territories?" he asks.