British museum refuses call to boycott Ahava lab

Anti-Israel artists and academics push for end to scientific research cooperation.

The Natural History Museum in London 311 (R) (photo credit: Paul Hackett/Reuters)
The Natural History Museum in London 311 (R)
(photo credit: Paul Hackett/Reuters)
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 Israeli company.
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 settlement.”
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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 accompanying article.
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 violation.
“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.
The Museum is lead partner in the project, which is working to identify the potential risks posed by engineered nanomaterial to the environment and human health.
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 environment.
“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.
“When our 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.
“As 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 said.
Owens said that two other UK-based organizations are also involved with Ahava DSL in two other FP7 projects.