Every issue has two sides, while Steven Rose's article highlights only one. I am certain many readers will recall that, several years ago, suicide bombings in the main streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other Israeli cities were fairly frequent. These atrocities are now a thing of the past, mainly owing to security measures taken by the Israeli government. Roadblocks, which are among these measures, on occasion allow passage only to older men and to women, as these populations have been shown to be significantly less involved in terror attacks than younger males. While some attacks on Israelis have been carried out by women or older males, occasional travel restrictions of this type strike some sort of manageable balance between the Israelis' right to live and the Palestinians' right to freedom of movement. One can choose to agree or to disagree with this policy, but it is misleading to present it as an arbitrary measure and to ignore the reasons behind it.
Most, if not all, of Rose's examples can be countered one by one in a similar manner—by considering the other side of the issue and by realizing that Palestinian terror also affects the academic freedom of Israeli scientists. Rose's comment that some Israeli academics do not support views such as his own might indicate that they have a distinct viewpoint—that of people living at the epicentre of the conflict, who see large and small events as they occur first‐hand and without the distortion that distance and second‐hand reporting can introduce.
On the more general subject of academic boycotts: a number of years ago I served as the Secretary of the Israel Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ISBMB), the Israeli representative to the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) and the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB). During this time, Iran applied to join the IUBMB as an observer; this was during one of the periods in which the Iranian President launched his daily tirades against Israel's right to exist, denied the Holocaust and made repeated statements that left no doubt about his intentions for Israel's future, academic freedom and all. In the time‐honoured tradition that separates science from politics, the ISBMB officers decided upon hearing of the Iranian application that we would support Iran's candidacy if its scientific presentation at the then upcoming IUBMB meeting (Kyoto, 2006) was up to standard. The presentation was indeed professional and we voted in favour of the scientists of Iran, a country whose leaders openly call for the destruction of our country. Surely the Western world can follow suit, keep politics and science separated, and take the issue of using academic boycotts as a political tool off the table once and for all?
- Copyright © 2010 European Molecular Biology Organization
Ari Elson is Associate Professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel. E‐mail: