Boycott of work by Israeli scientists 'could cost lives'

From the archive (legacy material)

Daniel Foggo and Josie Clarke | Daily Telegraph | 15 December 2002

The development of life-saving new medical treatments could be under threat because of the British boycott of Israeli academics, leading scientists and research organisations are warning.
Baroness Greenfield, the eminent neurobiologist and the director of the Royal Institution, the oldest independent research body in the country, said that she was becoming increasingly “distressed” by the boycott.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organisation, also said that it would become concerned if the shunning of work by Israeli academics, which began in April, continued.
The protests followed evidence that the boycott is gathering pace, with an increasing amount of Israeli research being ignored.
The coterie of Left-wing British intellectuals organising the boycott, which aims to deny Israeli academics an international platform until their country engages in peace talks with the Palestinians, insist that the action is morally justified.
Lady Greenfield, who is also a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and a council member of the foundation which regulates the Weizmann Institute, a prestigious cancer research centre, issued a warning last night, however, that it could put the well-being of the British public at risk.
She said: “The obvious implication of the boycott is that if this is stopping medical research from being propagated, then the development of treatments and people’s lives could be affected.
“If it continues it will harm people in every sphere but in medical research lives are potentially at risk. What are they trying to achieve by doing this? It is a situation where everyone loses.
The Israelis will suffer, the academics who do it are disapproved of by their colleagues, and it sends a very sad signal out to the general public because it is so illogical.
“If Britain goes to war with Iraq, does that mean that British academics should be boycotted by everyone else?”
The IARC, which co-ordinates and conducts research on cancer, also criticised the boycott. A spokesman confirmed that the agency collaborated with Israeli researchers, even though Israel had not been a member since 1967, and gave a warning that vital research could be held up “if this boycott were to expand in reach”.
The boycott was begun by two British academics, Steven Rose, a professor of biology at the Open University, and his wife Hilary, a professor of social policy at Bradford University.
Last April they sent a letter with the signatures of 123 other experts in their fields to a newspaper stating their intention to impose a moratorium on support for Israeli academics.
In July, The Telegraph reported how two Israeli professors were removed from their positions on two journals produced by Mona Baker, a professor of translation studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. The university is still considering what action, if any, should be taken over the matter.
Last week it emerged that other Israelis are having their work ignored by British academics. Prof Paul Singer, of the Israel Science Foundation, said: “We send out about 7,000 papers a year. This year, for the first time, we had about 25 people writing back saying: ‘We refuse to look at these’.”
Colin Blakemore, a professor of physiology at Oxford University, who supports the boycott, said: “I do not know of any British academic who has been to a conference in Israel in the last six months.”
Tony Blair has reportedly told the Chief Rabbi in Britain that he was “appalled” by the boycott and that he “would do anything to stop it”, but no action has been taken. Downing Street declined to comment last night.