NMR website posting Jan 2009

Dear NMR colleagues,

We all like a peaceful life, and most of the time we can maintain the illusion that our tidy world of fine NMR experiments, our beautiful and charmingly named pulse sequences, and our elegant theories, may be kept separate from the "real world" out there. Many argue, with a great deal of justification, that science is above the sordid world of politics and must remain so.

At the same time, most of us realize that there are certain times when a level of engagement with the world is the only moral response to the terrible things that are happening, and that such engagement may impact on our professional lives. For example, I think few would now defend the decision of Werner Heisenberg and others to continue to work on nuclear physics in the 1940's under the regime of Nazi Germany.

Many of you will know of my views on Israel and Zionism. I have held the opinion for many years that the extraordinary international support for Israel, which has conducted unambiguous ethnic cleansing, clear human rights violations and war crimes, and transparent international aggression, is extremely dangerous and will lead to a deepening of the hole it has dug itself.

Our elected governments have chosen, for reasons of their own, not only to remain silent about Israeli crimes and misdemeanours, but even to support Israeli with weapons sales, favourable economic conditions, and diplomatic cover. Much more to the point of this message, Israel now has almost complete access to scientific programs and collaborations within the European Community. Many of you will have attended scientific conferences in Israel. How many of you know that the site of that conference is with great probability erected on land that belonged to families who had lived in that place for hundreds of years, and who were expelled by force in 1948? And that those people, and their children and grandchildren, are with high probability the same ones that are now being bombed in Gaza, with horrifying weapons, such as white phosphorus? Many of you are chemists and will know what it means to be showered with white phosphorus.

We can all have views about whether the recent Israeli actions in Gaza are "justified" or not. I obviously have my definite opinions about that, but this is not the place to conduct that debate.

The point I really would like to get across to you is that the silence and complicity of the scientific community has contributed in a concrete way to what is happening in Gaza right now.

Even more importantly: the continuation of silence and complicity will contribute heavily to whatever Israel chooses to do in the years to come. No-one knows precisely what that will be, but we must expect that if no serious political obstacles emerge, Israel will continue its program of racial and ethnic cleansing by expelling as many non-Jewish inhabitants of historic Palestine as possible into neighbouring countries, using great violence to do so. This would continue the clear trend of ethnic cleansing that Israel has pursued with few pauses since 1948, and for which there is abundant historical documentation. Voices demanding such action are increasingly heard within Israel. Past events have shown that the views of Israeli extremists have moved with amazing rapidity to mainstream politics. All of that happens because there is no resistance. Israeli politicians have learnt that nothing they do ever leads to substantial international consequences.

As terrible as the Gaza events are, there may be worse to come.

I myself conduct a policy of non-collaboration with Israeli governmental or government-supported organizations. I do not participate in conferences in Israel, or review research grants from Israeli institutions, and so on. I never purchase Israeli goods, or those marked as "from Palestine", unless it is from an organization that I know is truly Palestinian (many such marked goods are actually produced by Israeli settlements on occupied land). It is not much (in fact it is pathetically little), but this is probably the minimum that an individual scientist can do.

Please consider this as an option the next time you choose to engage with Israel. We are all free individuals. We have a choice. In the long term, we are doing our Israeli colleagues no favours at all by our silent complicity and participation.

It should go without saying, but I have nothing whatsoever against our Israeli colleagues as individuals and as colleagues. I myself have lived and worked in Israel in the past and encountered nothing but hospitality and great humanity. Even now I still consider some Israeli scientists as friends. But it is a tragedy of history that fine individuals can be caught up in historical events that are beyond their control, and become complicit in great crimes. That happened in central Europe in the last century, and that is what is happening in Israel now.


Malcolm Levitt