A Message to the University of Pennsylvania Community from Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME)

As Printed in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania's independent student news organization
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This weekend there will be a gathering on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania by advocates of selective punishment of Israel for the absence of a comprehensive settlement of its conflict with Palestinian Arabs and the larger Arab world.  The preliminary program lists 21 speakers, almost exclusively individuals not affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania. 

While the conference planners obtained meeting space on the campus of one of America’s great universities, the venue selected should not confuse anyone that there is bona fide academic merit to this gathering.  Most of the speakers are not faculty anywhere, and among those few that are faculty, some are in disciplines unrelated to the study of the complex nature of the search for peace and justice in the Middle East[3].

SPME, a virtual international community of scholars committed to peaceful resolution of all of the Middle East’s many conflicts, recognizes that the BDS movement is both intellectually flawed and contrary to the very real needs of the people of that region.  We are committed to a genuine, just and enduring peace.

The BDS movement is mistaken in its focus on a single party, Israel, as the impediment to peace.  Israel has repeatedly expressed its willingness to live peacefully alongside a Palestinian state.  Since the rebirth of a Jewish state in 1948, Israel’s democratic governments from across the political spectrum have repeatedly demonstrated an intent to make painful compromises in the interest of a peaceful resolution of this conflict, including recognition of a Palestinian Arab homeland for those descended from Arabs displaced during prior conflicts.

Reciprocal recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jews has yet to occur.  Many Jewish Israelis, like their Arab neighbors, are descended from families native to the Middle East, but displaced by conflict.[4]  Prior to Israel’s independence, the area’s Jews were often considered to be “Palestinians”.[5]

BDS is contrary to the search for peace since it represents a form of misguided economic warfare.  It is directly contrary to decades of agreements between Israeli and Arab Palestinians, in which both sides pledged to negotiate a peaceful settlement and committed to a two state solution.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lists well over a hundred border disputes between nations.[6]Israel’s dispute with the Arabs over eventual boundaries is not unique, nor is this conflict the most violent.  Focusing on Israel for punitive action is unjustified and counterproductive.

SPME urges those committed to peace and justice for the people of a region which has had too much war and violence to join with us in rejecting the politics of hatred that the BDS movement represents.

[1]Academically affiliated readers are invited to contact SPME to learn how they can join us in the search for Middle East peace at https://spme.org/

[2]John R. Cohn, M.D., is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania, who is on the board of SPME and of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia.  He is a professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University.  He can be reached at john.r.cohn@gmail.com





A Message to the University of Pennsylvania Community from Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME)

As Printed in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania's independent student news organization
  • 0

John R. Cohn

John R. Cohn, Thomas Jefferson University, SPME Board of Directors

John R. Cohn, M.D., is a physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJUH), in Philadelphia, PA, where he is the chief of the adult allergy and immunology section and Professor of Medicine. He is the immediate past president of the medical staff at TJUH.

In his Israel advocacy work he is a prolific letter writer whose letters and columns have been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Jerusalem Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Haaretz, the Jewish Exponent, Lancet (an international medical journal based in the UK), and others. He was CAMERA’s “Letter Writer of the year” in 2003. He maintains a large email distribution of the original essays which he authors on various Israel-related topics.

He has spoken for numerous Jewish organizations, including Hadassah, the Philadelphia Jewish Federation and to a student group at Oxford University (UK). He and his wife were honored by Israel Bonds.

He wrote the monograph: “Advocating for Israel: A Resource Guide” for the 2010 CAMERA conference. It is valuable resource for all interested in maximizing their effectiveness in correcting the endless errors of fact and omission in our mainstream media. One piece of very valuable advice that he offers to other letter writers is: “Journalists and media are not our enemies, even those we don't agree with". Particularly for those of us in the academic community he urges a respectful and educational approach to journalists who have taken a wayward course.

In addition to the SPME board, Dr. Cohn is a member of a variety of professional and Jewish organizations, including serving on the boards of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, the CAMERA regional advisory board, and Allergists for Israel (American allergists helping the Israeli allergist community). In the past he served on the board of the Philadelphia ADL. He participated in the 2010 CAMERA conference (“War by Other Means,” Boston University) where he led a panel with students on “Getting the Message Out,” and a break-out session called “Getting Published in the Mainstream Media.”

He is married, has three children and one grandchild. He belongs to two synagogues--he says with a chuckle, "So I always have one not to go to". He has been to Israel many times, including as a visiting professor at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. His first trip was at age 10, when Jerusalem was still a divided city; and he remembers vividly standing before the Mandelbaum Gate, wondering why he could not go through it to the Old City on the other side.

He adroitly balances his wide-ranging volunteer activities on behalf of Israel with his broad and complex medical and teaching practice (including authoring numerous professional publications) while successfully maintaining good relations with a broad spectrum of Jewish community leaders and organizations -- no small feat.

Regarding his involvement with SPME, Dr. Cohn acknowledged first and foremost SPME’s Immediate Past President, Professor Ed Beck. Dr. Cohn has long perceived that under Professor Beck’s guidance, SPME has been doing an essential job on college campuses; so he was honored when Professor Beck invited him to join the board.

He finds it easy to support and be active in SPME because being a Jewish American and a supporter of Israel presents no conflict due to the congruence of both countries’ interests, policies and priorities. It is clear that Israel’s cause is not a parochial issue. It is a just cause and its advocacy is advocacy for justice.

For Dr. Cohn, the need for SPME is clear. The resources of those who speak out on behalf of Israel are dwarfed by the funding sources available to those who seek to denigrate Israel. Israel's supporters don’t have large oil fields to underwrite their work. And the campus is a critical arena for work today on behalf of Israel, because this generation’s students are next generation’s leaders.

For advancing SPME’s work in the future, he would like to see the continued development of academically sound analyses to counter the prevailing anti-Israel ideology of all too much academic research and teaching on campuses and in professional fields today. He points to Lancet’s creation of a “Lancet Palestinian Health Alliance,” which asserts that Israel is to blame for poor health care for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The documented reality, however, is that life expectancy, infant mortality and other measures of health are better for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza than in many of the countries so critical of Israel This is in large part thanks to Israel.

Dr. Cohn asserts that we need more research, analysis and publications to counteract such misleading allegations.

Read all stories by John R. Cohn