LONDON – One of the UK’s most popular science museums has refused to succumb to
a call by anti-Israel activists to sever its working relationship with an
On Tuesday a group of anti- Israel artists and academics
condemned the Natural History Museum in West London for its research
collaboration with Ahava/Dead Sea Laboratories because it is located in “an
illegal settlement in the Palestinian West Bank” and “it extracts, processes and
exports Palestinian resources to generate profits that fund an illegal
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Film makers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh joined other activists
calling for the museum to terminate its research with the Israeli company. The
call was in the letter page of Tuesday’s Independent. The newspaper gave the
letter prominence, placing it in bold and at the top of the page and even had an
On Thursday, Prof. Ian Owens, the museum’s director
of science, said that the museum will not heed to any boycott calls and that it
is dedicated to expanding and sharing knowledge. Academic freedom is an
important principle in pursuing this goal, he said.
“In this respect we
are in broad alignment with the wider UK academic community. We work
within the legal and policy boundaries established by politicians and policy
makers, and would not participate in any academic or educational boycotts that
could restrict academic freedom,” he said.
The activists said that
Israel’s “settlement project” has been found by the International Court of
Justice to be a breach of international law and that organizations which “aid
and abet” this process may well themselves be found to be in
“We find it almost inconceivable that a national institution
of the status of the Natural History Museum should have put itself in this
position,” the signatories said.
Other signatories included Liberal
Democrat peer and activist Jenny Tonge, who during the second intifada said that
she might herself consider becoming a suicide bomber and has claimed that the
pro- Israel lobby has a financial grip on the world and her party. A host of
anti-Israel academics, who are prominent in the boycott call of Israeli
academia, are also among the 21 signatories.
The museum’s project
involves 11 partners, including Imperial College London and King’s College, and
goes through a European Union funded project called NanoRetox.
It is a
four year collaboration with a budget of 300,000 euros. However the
collaboration began in 2008 and will be completed at the end of 2012.
Museum is lead partner in the project, which is working to identify the
potential risks posed by engineered nanomaterial to the environment and human
Owens said that this is an area of scientific interest because,
although nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize many aspects of
modern life, there are concerns about its potential for harming humans and the
“To carry out this work we have assembled a team of experts
from across the EU and the US whose combined expertise can address the toxicity
of nanoparticles in a systematic way,” Owens said.
The director of
science said that Ahava/Dead Sea Laboratories have proven to be an expert in
this area and approved as a partner by the European Commission.
research leaders were putting together the NanoReTox project they were missing
expertise in specific nanoparticle techniques and analysis. Ahava DSL, who are
based in Israel and have activities in the Occupied Territories, were found to
offer this expertise through the EC research partner-finding scheme.
with our other collaborators on this project, the EC approved Ahava DSL as a
partner when the contract was issued to the Natural History Museum. NanoRetox is
funded by the EC within the Seventh Framework Program (FP7),” he
Owens said that two other UK-based organizations are also involved
with Ahava DSL in two other FP7 projects.