A European medical research network, that had decided to move a conference from Jerusalem to Lisbon for fear of pressure from supporters of boycotting Israel, is reviewing the decision. This follows representations by top scientists and correspondence from UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), an association of lawyers who seek to ensure the proper application of laws in matters relating to Israel.
On 21 June this year the Chair of the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation (ENMESH), Prof. Mike Slade of the University of Nottingham, decided to move the conference, which was scheduled to take place in Jerusalem in 2021, on the ground that ENMESH did not have resources to deal with the kind of campaign that holding a conference in Israel might attract.
This decision was drawn to UKLFI’s attention by Prof. Zvi Ziegler, who chairs Israeli Universities’ Inter- Senate Committee and the Israeli universities’ counter boycott forum. UKLFI wrote to Prof. Slade and several other members of ENMESH’s Executive Committee, asking them to reverse that decision and drawing their attention to certain legal and practical consequences that may follow if the decision is not reversed. Top scientists including Lord Prof. Robert Winston and Prof. Michael Yudkin also expressed their disapproval at Prof. Slade’s decision, and Baroness Ruth Deech tabled questions in the House of Lords.
UKLFI’s letters pointed out that the excuse that ENMESH could not cope with vociferous opposition was no better than that of 1950s dance club managers who refused admission to black persons for fear of trouble, before this was made illegal.
Jonathan Turner informed Prof. Slade: “The cancellation of the conference in Jerusalem clearly constitutes an act of discrimination against Israeli researchers and practitioners. As such, we consider that it is unlawful under sections 29(2) and 57(2) of the Equality Act 2010. If it is not reversed, we will be minded to refer our concerns in this regard to the Equality and Human Rights Commission”.
“In addition, it appears to us that the cancellation contradicts the policies of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) on equality, diversity and inclusion: see https://www.ukri.org/about-us/policies-and-standards/equality-diversity-and-inclusion/. These aim to “champion equality, diversity and inclusion across the research and innovation sector” and “embed equality, diversity and inclusion at all levels and in all that we do, both as an organisation and as a funder”.
“It seems to us that UKRI would be bound to take into account the denial of equality, diversity and inclusion represented by the cancellation of the conference in Jerusalem in relation to future applications for funding work by members of the ENMESH Executive Committee. If the decision is not reversed, we intend to draw this point to the attention of UKRI.”
UKLFI’s letters to other members of the Executive Committee of ENMESH pointed out that they could not wash their hands of responsibility by leaving this matter to the Chair. “The Executive Committee hold themselves out as running the ENMESH network. Acquiescence in the discriminatory conduct of the Chair would be a gross dereliction of the responsibility which they have assumed.”
An announcement, posted on the ENMESH website on 2 August 2019 has now confirmed that the ENMESH Board has decided to continue discussions with its Israeli partners to see if the ENMESH conference can be hosted in Israel.
The ENMESH statement said: “ENMESH is a research network of academics engaged in mental health service research. It is a small, informal body operating on the goodwill of its membership with no formal infrastructure or funding to support its operations.
The deliberations around whether the ENMESH conference should or should not be held in Israel were never intended as an academic boycott of any kind, nor should they be perceived as such. ENMESH has been sincere throughout in expressing its wish to host a conference in Israel. We were only ever concerned by practical considerations, given the very limited ability of an unfunded and informal academic network to manage the potential campaigning that such an event might attract.
Together and individually, we and ENMESH members work and publish regularly with Israeli colleagues and value the close relationships we have built up over many years. We have no wish to damage these relationships and recognise the strength of feeling expressed to Board members over recent weeks.
Therefore, a sub-group of the ENMESH Board is continuing discussions with the Israeli organising committee to see if we can proceed to host the ENMESH conference in Israel.
It is clear that our processes for securing consensus for decisions across the Board membership have proved challenging and we sincerely regret any hurt to anyone’s feelings as a result. The Board will seek to review our decision-making processes so that such a situation does not arise in the future.”
Prof. Slade has, as of 3 August 2019, stepped down from his role as Chair of the ENMESH Board, and his successor, Prof. Bernd Puschner will progress these matters.
ENMESH was established in 1991 under the auspices of the World Health Organisation, Regional Office for Europe. It is a network of active researchers in the field of Mental Health Service Research and Evaluation.