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Israel’s science minister, Ofir Akunis, blocked the appointment of Yael Amitai, a prominent brain scientist, to a binational German-Israeli science committee because Amitai signed a petition 10 years ago supporting soldiers who refused to serve in the occupied West Bank, Haaretz reported.
An aide to the science minister, said Akunis, “decided not to sign the recommendation to appoint Ms. Amitai as a representative to the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research, not because of her opinions but because in the past she had signed a petition encouraging draft refusal to the Israel Defense Forces.
“The science minister believes it is improper that someone who encourages refusal should represent Israel in international forums.”
Israeli university officials have protested the decision, saying it risks damaging Israel’s academic standing, according to Haaretz. “This is an embarrassing situation for the State of Israel, in which the minister in charge of science will stop at no means to glorify himself among his political supporters, while sacrificing on the altar of politics the interests of the State of Israel and the status of Israeli academia as a whole, putting millions of euros that are supposed to reach Israeli researchers and scientists at risk,” the Forum of University Heads said in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to overrule the science minister.
The executive committee for the Alliance for Academic Freedom, which defines itself as a group of scholars “who are dedicated to combating academic boycotts and blacklists, defending freedom of expression and promoting empathy and civility in the debate over Israelis and Palestinians,” has also issued a statement urging the reversal of the decision, which it says “politicizes the work of a fundamentally academic and non-political international committee.”
“The unacceptable and invasive character of the Minister’s decision is made clear by the reason he offered -- that Professor Amitai years earlier had signed a petition supporting the right of Israelis to refuse military service as a matter of conscience,” the alliance’s statement says. “That political position clearly has no bearing on the work of the scientific committee, which includes reviewing applications for science grants.”