On the 14th of February, the Palestinian Academy for Science and Technology (PalAST) published its letter to the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) where it called on EMBO to relocate its workshop away from apartheid Israel. Below is EMBO’s reply and the subsequent response from Palestinian scientists from the PalAST and Birzeit University.
Thank you for your thoughtful and important email of 19th January. I have shared it with several EMBO staff and discussed it with the chair of EMBO Council, Matthew Freeman, who is copied here.
By way of background, the EMBO mission is to promote excellence in the life sciences (https://www.embo.org/). Decision-making is largely devolved to scientists within our community, many of whom are EMBO members and associate members elected in recognition of their research contributions.
Each year the EMBO courses and workshops committee considers applications. The eligibility criteria are available here: https://www.embo.org/funding/funding-for-conferences-and-training/workshops/selection/. The committee members judged that the meetings that you list met those criteria. However, we will, of course, relay your concerns to the committee at its next meeting and I can assure you that the points you make will be taken seriously. We will also – with your permission - forward your email to the neuronal remodelling meeting organisers with the request that they explain the history of the site and massacre in their opening remarks to the delegates. We are optimistic that this will foster a constructive dialogue.
In closing I thought you would be interested to know that EMBO has previously hosted two meetings at Birzeit University, organised by EMBO Young Investigators. This led to funding for summer internships for Palestinian researchers. There are also other EMBO schemes that would benefit scientists from Palestine, notably the scientific exchange grants.
I hope that this response is helpful and thank you again for getting in touch.
With best wishes,
Palestinian scientists from the PalAST and Birzeit University reply:
Dear Prof. Watt and Prof. Freeman,
Thank you for your response and for explaining your process. I am including our colleague Prof. Johnny Stiban, a professor of cell biology and biochemistry and former chairperson of the department of biology and biochemistry at Birzeit University.
While we appreciate that your workshop selection criteria and application guidelines strive to address issues such as inclusivity, diversity and reducing the CO2 footprint, we must note that there are no provisions to prevent the organization of workshops hosted by or organized under the auspices of institutions complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity. This oversight, if you allow us, completely negates the other well-intentioned criteria.
We would strongly suggest revising your guidelines to ensure that this is no longer possible, by excluding institutions complicit in such grave crimes.
With regards to your proposal to have organizers of the neuronal remodeling workshop inform those present of the massacre, we can appreciate why you would suggest this. However, please understand that you would be asking, presumably, a member of the oppressor community to narrate our trauma at the event, while ignoring the demands of oppressed Palestinians that will ultimately undermine our struggle for freedom, justice and equality. This comes at a time when Israel’s most racist, far-right, fundamentalist government ever is making good on its promise to escalate what is already a brutal apartheid regime. I would ask that you not be surprised if we take offense at this.
In reference to EMBO initiatives aimed at supporting Palestinian scientists, while, again, we appreciate the gesture, this can in no way compensate for the harm done to our struggle. By continuing a business-as-usual approach with its apartheid regime and complicit institutions, you are, regardless of intentions, signaling to Israel that it can continue to deny our students, researchers and faculty members their right to study in the occupied Palestinian territory and abroad, severely restrict opportunities for Palestinian and international students and scholars from abroad to study and teach at our universities, and prevent our universities from importing textbooks and lab equipment. No workshops at Palestinian universities or grants for Palestinian scientists can undo or balance out the damage done. Palestinian universities openly welcome the chance to collaborate with our colleagues abroad, however we cannot and will not sell out our collective liberation struggle.
Please understand that we are asking neither for token gestures nor charity. At the very least, we are asking you to do no harm, as the basis of effective solidarity. We are asking you to heed the call from representative Palestinian scientific and scholarly organizations and cancel all upcoming events in apartheid Israel. The South African oppressed majority would have asked you the same had you organized a conference during the apartheid era there.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you for your further comments. I assure you that the points you raise will be discussed at the next EMBO courses and workshops committee. Under ’selection criteria and application guidelines’ I am recommending that meeting organisers will need to assess whether their selected venue could potentially cause distress to attendees because of its history.