Scientists rally behind museum's 'Israel Day'

Lord Winston and 100 top academics reject 'pernicious' protest over Science Museum

More than 100 academics including some of the nation's most senior scientists have written a letter in response to "pernicious" calls for the Science Museum to cancel its Israel Science Day event today.

The strongly worded letter, signed by Professor Robert Winston and Baroness Susan Greenfield among others, accused those campaigning against the event of "preventing British schoolchildren from being inspired by scientific discovery and innovation".

More than 400 campaigners are opposing the celebration of Israeli science on the grounds that it promotes Israeli universities whose research was complicit with the military campaign in Gaza. The letter, sent to The Independent, says: "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 boycotts are especially pernicious."

Signatories of the letter include Lord Winston, chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, Professor Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, and Professor Ruth Deech, a former chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. They welcomed the museum's refusal to cancel the event which is to take place today amid enhanced security and picketers.

The educational workshops and seminars being held by Israeli scientists are not being hosted or sponsored by the museum but are organised as a corporate event by the Zionist Federation. The letter, signed by 104 academics, was organised by "Stop the Boycott", a group set up in 2007 to oppose a planned University and College Union boycott of Israeli universities.

Speaking out against the protest, Baroness Deech said: "This is a counter-productive and anti-intellectual gesture. Regardless of the reasons given, this looks and feels like a racist statement. Far from helping the Palestinians, it does nothing but discredit the protesters. Why are the political activists singling out Israel and not taking similar positions on so many other conflicts around the world?

"There is a global principle of scientific enquiry and this runs totally counter to that. Two years ago, there was an ugly attempt to boycott all Israeli academics. This time, the scientists are the target and it is no less unpleasant."

Baroness Greenfield added: "Boycotting science is a lose-lose strategy. Nobody wins. On the other hand promoting science, especially in young people, is the real hope for the 21st century."

Stephen Ladyman, MP for South Thanet, said he was "disgusted" by the protest petition signatories. "I'm pretty disgusted that scientists, academics and people I would greatly respect have been so narrow-minded to try and encourage a boycott of science. Academic freedom has to be protected as ferociously as we can," he added.

The critics accuse the museums of promoting scientists who are "complicit in the Israeli occupation and in the policies and weaponry deployed to such disastrous effect in Gaza".