Israelis react with fury to British boycott call

Israeli scientists and officials reacted angrily yesterday to calls by more than 400 British academics for the Science Museum to cancel educational workshops planned to promote Israeli science tomorrow.

The cancellation call and claims that Israeli universities are "complicit" in the occupation of Palestinian territories and this year's "disastrous" offensive in Gaza, reported in The Independent yesterday, were condemned as "absurd" by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Its spokesman, Yigal Palmor, said: "These calls cannot but be motivated by extreme blindness and silly ideology. This of course does not promote the good causes which the boycotters are presumed to promote – not peace, understanding, nor compromise."

The British academics, among them 40 professors, include many of those behind the eventually unsuccessful campaign to impose a full-scale boycott of Israeli academics. The "educational seminars" – in Manchester yesterday and at the Science Museum in London tomorrow – are being run by the UK Zionist Federation.

Yivsam Azgad, a spokesman for Israel's Weizmann Institute, said: "We don't believe that science and politics should be combined. Period." Dan Zaslavsky, professor of hydrology at the Technion-Israel Institute in Haifa and one of Israel's leading energy experts, said: "It's ugly and it is 100 per cent certain that this will hurt British science in the long run if the largest group don't stand up and reject this repulsive stance." Professor Zaslavsky said academics who thought good would come out of boycotts and protests of this kind were "distorted in their minds".

Professor Amnon Yogev, a former professor of laser chemistry at the Weizmann Institute, said that "freedom of speech is one of the basic principles of democracy". He said that singling out Israel on human rights issues when so much of the Arab world, Iran and Afghanistan had "no human rights" was "an illness". He added: "If you look back at history you will see that when they want to stop people communicating their ideas, it starts with the Jews, then goes on to other minorities and then you can't stop it."

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