People who cherish the values of independence of thought, scientific research free of governmental intervention and academic freedom, and who are used to fighting governmental encroachment on such freedom find themselves in a strange situation nowadays.
The current threat to those values comes from colleagues in Natfhe, who should have shared the desire to protect the right of every scholar to pursue her/his scholarly work without interference, regardless of his/her race, nationality, political stance, or other irrelevant factors.
Science has no boundaries. The quest for knowledge has been the moving force behind the advancement and progress of humanity. This quest for the truth is disconnected from national allegiance. Regimes or societies that try to control thought or impose political restrictions on scientists, cause great harm to themselves, and have been justly criticized by all enlightened and progressive people.
Thus, we view with dismay the motion which is on the agenda of the Natfhe national conference, recommending a boycott of Israeli scientists who will not “publicly dissociate themselves from Israeli policies. This is plainly a reincarnation of the despicable McCarthy “oath of loyalty”, and is an affront to the Principle of the Universality of Science. This principle, espoused by the International Council of Science, a body that most national Academies of Science belong to, prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality or political stance, inter alia.
Science, like Medicine, has no earthly frontiers. It is surely inconceivable that scientists, who made a discovery beneficial to humanity, will be barred from presenting their findings at a conference because he belongs to a certain group, or keeps his political views to himself. But this would happen if the motion is adopted.
We may consider the repercussions and implications of this kind of boycott. Boycotters, who by their action demonstrate disregard for the principles guiding the scientific community, might be boycotted, and the process can get out of control, with many losers, and no winners.
To quote a prominent British Scientist, a Fellow of the Royal Society, Prof. Peter Kennedy, “the proposed motion is unethical, unfair, inappropriate and just plain wrong”.
Written by: Professor Zvi Ziegler, Chairman, The Inter-Senate Committee for the Protection of Academic Independence