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Following pressure, mental health academics may reverse decision to cancel conference in Israel

August 9, 2019 at 11:20 am

An activist holds up a placard during a protest supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) [Heri Rakotomalala/Flickr]

A European association of mental health researchers may reverse a decision to cancel a planned conference in Israel, reported Haaretz, following an organised campaign by boycott opponents.

Last month, the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation (ENMESH) announced that it would be cancelling the gathering, over fears that it would be targeted by the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

The BDS campaign, modelled on the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement, calls for the isolation of Israel in various forms until Palestinian rights are implemented.

At the time, ENMESH’s decision was described as the first cancellation of its kind, prompting a huge effort to change the association’s mind by pro-Israel individuals and campaigners.

Now, in a statement issued this week, ENMESH has announced that it would continue discussions with “local organisers” to see if the conference can still be hosted in Israel.

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The new statement also distanced ENMESH from the academic boycott, and claimed that the decision to cancel the conference was based on “practical considerations”, and its limited capacity to “manage the potential [BDS] campaigning that such an event might attract”.

According to Haaretz, the decision to change the conference location sparked anger from those opposed to a boycott of Israel, including Lord Professor Robert Winston from Imperial College and Professor Michael Yudkin from Oxford University.

Professor Zvi Ziegler, “coordinator of the Israeli inter-university effort aimed at fighting academic boycotts”, told Haaretz: “We are glad that the board of ENMESH realized that cancelling the conference in Israel was inappropriate and that negative campaigns, if they take place, should not affect academic decisions.”

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Dr. Samah Jabr, senior psychiatrist and head of the Mental health Unit at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, urged international mental health professionals to show “solidarity” with the Palestinians, including through “stopping professional collaboration with official Israeli organizations and reconsidering the choice of Israel as the location of future professional conferences”.

Networking with Palestinian colleagues, instead of supporting professional efforts that normalize the Israeli occupation, can create a global, professional activist community committed to counteracting the helplessness, hopelessness, and exclusion brought about by the political oppression in occupied Palestine


she added.

Noting the support expressed by mental health professionals in Palestine and elsewhere for the ENMESH decision to cancel the conference, Dr. Jabr told MEMO that ENMESH’s “capitulation” means colleagues must once again challenge and condemn the network’s decision.