January 2, 2003
Mixing Science and Politics Brews Hate
It's bad enough that Israeli doctors are spending their lives in emergency rooms treating Jewish and Arab victims of suicide bombers. What really makes them heartsick these days, however, is that they also have to fend off mindless attacks from their scientific colleagues, particularly in Europe.
We arrived at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where some 2,000 victims have been treated during the current intifada, less than 24 hours after a particularly horrific bus bombing in Jerusalem. Hours earlier, teams of Jewish-Arab doctors had done what they've done for the past two years: jumped into action to save the lives of the critically injured.
On Israeli television the night before, the father of the homicidal bomber bragged that he was proud of his son who had attacked a busload of schoolchildren and senior citizens. On the day we arrived, that same father suffered chest pains, and was brought to Hadassah. He was seen by the same doctors who were still treating the victims of his son's madness.
The humanitarian approach to medicine of our colleagues in Israel stands in stark contrast to actions recently taken by our European colleagues. In Britain and Norway, countries we Americans generally feel are kindred to our way of life, university professors and scientific researchers have recently refused to share research information with Israel's academics and physicians because they oppose Israel's policy toward the Palestinians.
The head of Hadassah Medical Center's Goldyne Savad Gene Therapy Institute, Dr. Eitan Galun, an Israeli Jew, has been engaged in research to cure a blood disease prevalent in the Palestinian community. He recently requested assistance from a Norwegian scientist and was refused.
"Due to the present situation in the Middle East, I will not deliver any material to an Israelitic (sic) university," she responded by e-mail. By her actions, which confuse science with politics, the Palestinian population will needlessly continue to suffer from a disease that could be cured through scientific cooperation.
Also recently, two Israeli academics were dismissed from the boards of scholarly linguistics journals. The first, Miriam Shlesinger, a senior lecturer in translation studies at Bar-Ilan University, was removed from the editorial board of the Translator: Studies in Intercultural Communication.
The second, Gideon Toury, a professor at Tel Aviv University's School of Cultural Studies, was dismissed from the international advisory board of Translation Studies Abstracts. Mona Baker, a University of Manchester academic, who has circulated a petition calling for a moratorium on grants and contracts with research institutions in Israel, owns both publications.
These examples dramatically demonstrate an unacceptable breakdown in the international norms of intellectual freedom and collaboration.
Our colleagues in Israel do not mix science and politics, and our colleagues in Europe, likewise, should know better than to do so. Using Israel's political situation as a reason to withhold collaborative information is a smoke screen. Moreover it is a symptom of that chronic European disease, anti-Semitism, which now hides behind anti-Israel rhetoric. Israel is criticized for human rights violations as it tries to protect its citizens.
Yet it is the only country in the Middle East with a free press, an independent judiciary and all its citizens, both men and women, whether Jew, Muslim or Christian, have the right to vote.
It's high time for the courageous and intellectually honest among our European colleagues to make a stand against their region's particular brand of bigotry. It is past time for doctors and scientists to first heal themselves and then immunize Europe against this centuries-old scourge. The medical community in Israel truly reflects the words of the prophet Malachi 2:10: "Have we not one father hath not one God created us, wherefore shall we deal treacherously with each other. Profaning the covenant of our fathers."
Its time for our colleagues in Europe to recognize this and act accordingly. Â
Dr. Benjamin Sachs is the Harold H. Rosenfield professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproduction biology at the Harvard Medical School. He recently led a medical mission to Israel sponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston and the Hadassah Medical Organization and Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.