Top thinkers blast plan to block Israeli scientists

By Leon Symons, March 5, 2009
The Large Hadron Collider, the subject Prof Eliam Gross’s talk in Manchester

The Large Hadron Collider, the subject Prof Eliam Gross’s talk in Manchester

Dozens of academics have hit back at an attempt to stop top Israeli scientists giving lectures about Israel’s achievements to non-Jewish sixth form students.

A campaign to cancel lectures which took place at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry on Tuesday and London’s Science Museum on Thursday was started two months ago by the anti-Israel British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP).

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign joined in and stories appeared this week in a number of national newspapers.

The Independent made the story its front page lead on Tuesday, which prompted Jewish and non-Jewish academics to respond.

A letter, which it was hoped would be published by the paper on Thursday, read: “We were saddened by attempts to cancel the ‘Israel Science Day’ lectures and workshops for schoolchildren. Whatever our opinions on the actions of the Israeli government, scientists and academics should not be punished simply for their nationality.

“Science crosses borders, builds bridges and transcends national and political divides. It can unite people, but the protesters seek only to divide and exclude. At a time of high community tensions, these boycott calls are especially pernicious.

“The group of protesters peddled a discredited academic boycott inside the University and College Union, which was widely condemned as discriminatory and was abandoned. After failing in their union, they have continued the boycott campaign in wider society, trying to prevent British schoolchildren from being inspired by scientific innovation. We welcome the Science Museum’s principled position in refusing to cancel this event.”

Signatories to the letter included Lord May, president elect of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and a past president of the Royal Society; Lord Haskel, on the Lords committee on science and technology; Lord Winston; Baroness Deech; Prof Raymond Dwek; Lord Turnberg; Prof Sir Alan Fersht; Stephen Ladyman MP; and Tim Boswell MP, a member of the innovation and skills committee.

The two days were organised by the Zionist Federation, which brought scientists and academics from seven Israeli universities covering subjects including genetics, marine geoscience, the Large Hadron Collider, bionics and water management.

ZF chairman Andrew Balcombe said: “The ZF is delighted with how well our science day in Manchester was received on Tuesday. We are also pleased at the resolve of the science museums and the support that we have received from the Jewish and wider community, which included broader academic support.”

Three hundred pupils from schools in Manchester and Liverpool attended Tuesday’s event in Manchester. While they were inside the Museum of Science, a low-key demonstration took place outside, which attracted only 15 people.

After the event, Dr Alon Tal, from Ben Gurion University, said: “It was appropriate that this event should have been held in Manchester, the city that hosted Chaim Weizmann who played such a prominent role in the founding and the history of Israel. It has been a great opportunity for Israeli academics to get to know each other, too”.

Last updated: 3:45pm, March 10 2009