A network of mental health academics has apologised for any “hurt” caused after reports that its planned Israel conference had been cancelled “under pressure from anti-Israel activists”.
Organisers told Jewish News that discussions were continuing this week about the location for the next biennial conference of the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation (ENMESH) network of academics in 2021.
Jerusalem had been mooted as a host city earlier this summer but the idea appeared to have been shelved by the British chair after complaints were made. Two members subsequently resigned in fury, only for one of them to agree to come back as the new ENMESH chair.
Last month, Baroness Ruth Deech said any boycott would would breach Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Principle of Universality of Science and Academic Freedom, alleging that it was “due to fear of pressure from anti-Israel activists”.
Responding, Government spokesman Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that although the UK strongly opposed the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, “ultimately it will be the decision of an individual, organisation or company whether to operate in Israel”.
Professor Mike Slade of the University of Nottingham, who was ENMESH chair until early August, said in a joint letter posted online together with his successor Professor Bernd Puschner that the decision to backtrack was not a boycott of Israel.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
He added that ENMESH members “work and publish regularly with Israeli colleagues and value the close relationships we have built up over many years,” saying: “We have no wish to damage these relationships and recognise the strength of feeling expressed to Board members over recent weeks.”
Slade further suggested that the idea of an event in Israel had not been ruled out, adding that the group had experienced its own decision-making difficulties.
“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.”
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