Physics in Service of Anti-Zionism
At this very moment, physicists from around the United States, from around the globe in fact, are packing their bags for a trip to Columbus, Ohio. Some have perhaps already arrived and are getting settled in hotel rooms at or near the conference venue. Conference organizers are making sure everything will run like clockwork. Student presenters are excitedly going over their material, hoping to brilliantly answer questions posed to them by those to whom they will apply for post-doctoral positions. And someone is also preparing to bash Israel.
The American Physical Society (APS) conference will take place between April 14 and 17. Esteemed scientists from American universities and NASA, and those from Canada, Australia, Europe, India, Nigeria, Iran and Egypt will share the stages in plenary sessions and panels on topics that barely sound like English or any other recognizable language. I would be surprised if many of you know what to expect to hear at a lecture called: “Surprising consequences of a positive cosmological constant.” On the other hand, this one sounds intriguing: “Dinosaurs, Neutrons and a little Alchemy — revealing the secrets of a long-lost past.” I doubt, however, that I would really understand much of it.
There are talks on progress for women scientists in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Of those countries in the Middle East, the lecturer only includes Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt in her talk. But never fret! Israel does have a place on the agenda. On April 16, Shelley R. Lesher has 30 minutes to present the following lecture:
The Role of the Physicist in Human Rights
The Committee on the Intellectual Freedom of Scientists (CIFS) of the American Physical Society (APS) has been a proud defender of the human rights of scientists in the US and abroad since its formation in 1976. It is responsible for “monitoring concerns of problems encountered by scientist in pursuit of their scientific interest or in effecting satisfactory communication with other scientists.” This talk will focus on violations of these rights, particularly, in the 21st century. Some cases include: Omid Kokabee, an Iranian studying physics at the University of Texas-Austin who was in an Iranian prison for five years for refusing to engage in scientific research he deemed harmful to humanity; Wen Ho Lee, a Los Alamos researcher whose human rights were violated by the United States on accusations of spying for a foreign government; the current persecution of Turkish scientists and the inability of free travel of scientists between Israel and Palestine. Suggestions will also be made on how individuals can become involved in these issues. [emphasis added]
You can read about the Kokabee case here and about the Wen Ho Lee case here. In the Kokabee case, it appears that pressure from the APS in fact helped him gain his freedom. The Lee case is fascinating and it is still uncertain whether or not he was guilty of the charges that were dropped when the prosecution was compelled to seek a plea bargain, unable to find sufficient evidence to take him to court.
The fact that the APS includes the Lee case in their list of human rights violations is interesting. I wonder if Lesher will talk about the fact that Lee was apparently not totally innocent. While I am prepared to be proven wrong, somehow I doubt she will give that as much attention as it deserves. And that is likely what will happen when she moves on to talk about Israel and how Israel seemingly abuses the human rights of scientists in the Palestinian Authority (PA – the proper name for the region under discussion and not Palestine, a place that does not exist and never has).
The APS case against Israel
Look at the web page of the cases being supported by the Committee on the Intellectual Freedom of Scientists (CIFS) of the APS. Five places are listed: Bahrain, Gaza, Iran, Israel, Russia, and Turkey. So out of five places, two concern Israel – one Gaza and the other related to our hampering the freedom of scientists in the PA. That “balance” in complaints between Israel and the rest of the world is somewhat better than what we usually find.
The APS wrote two letters to Prime Minister Netanyahu. In one letter, they make it clear that the APS has never supported academic boycott. I wonder why they did not see fit, in their letters to Bahrain, Iran and Turkey, to state that they do not support academic boycott against their scientists – AH! Because nobody in the world has ever thought those countries with really horrendous human rights records merit the BDS they so religiously uphold against Israel. At least we can applaud the APS in their truly ethical stand concerning academic boycott against the one beleaguered state in the world. And I say this without cynicism.
The letters state that APS understands Israel has clear security needs, but asks for transparency regarding the reasons for refusal of permission for certain students or scientists to leave Gaza or the PA to attend international conferences or to study abroad. In other words: Israel! Justify yourself!
Personally, I would also like to know all the evidence against those Israel deems sufficient security risks to deny them freedom of movement outside the PA and Gaza. And I would also like to know the details of all the imminent terrorist attacks that Israel successfully defuses before they can be carried out. And no, I do not really anticipate getting an answer to either of these and many other questions I have. Not until I get myself some heavy-duty security clearance and I do not anticipate that either.
To complain about Israel restricting the academic freedom of a few physicists in Gaza and the PA implies that the APS does not accept Israel’s declarations that these particular individuals are security risks. To so challenge a democratic country that operates by rule of law would require a bit more in-depth analysis of the situation than I believe the physicists have endeavoured to pursue. I wonder if they have any idea of the immense developments of higher education that took place only once the Jordanian and Egyptian occupations ended and Israel made sure that universities were established and thrived. The An-Najah National University in Nablus is a case in point:
The ANU website is also encouraging its faculty to submit papers for consideration for publication in professional journals and to apply to present papers at an international conference to be held in Tunisia in 2016; I suppose that means they do not anticipate any problems getting exit and re-entry visas to attend that conference. Ambitious, the university is trying to develop its own two new professional journals, one in natural sciences and the other in the humanities, attempting to achieve a standard that will allow their journals to be added to professional databases. No small accomplishment for universities operating under “oppressive occupation”, I would say.
Lesher – did you know about this? Did you notice that Israel permits scientists to travel to places with which we do not have diplomatic relations? Perhaps you might also be interested in a response I got from an official at the ANU, who claimed that life in the PA is normal and that the media exaggerate the news.
I agree that professional organizations like the APS should take care of the human rights violations committed against their colleagues. I also believe the professional organizations should make sure they know all sides of the story. Turning to certain colleagues in Israel for information is not always helpful because, for some reason, academics in Israel have typically been on the side of those who want to pressure Israel into appeasing those who seek Israel’s destruction. In other words, many academics in Israel are anti-Zionist or, as they prefer to refer to themselves: post-Zionist.
If you think I am putting this too harshly or that I am a rabid alarmist, I invite you to enter into a conversation with me to examine the complexities of the situation. You need not agree with me in the end, but conversation and debate are invaluable.
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Post-script: I usually add something from the biography of the person about whom I am writing. However, aside from a very impressive list of her publications and professional activities, I was able to learn nothing about the person Shelley R. Lesher is.