European association said to nix Jerusalem conference, fearing BDS pressure

Members resign in protest of cancellation by European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation; Israeli association calls move ‘startling, dishonorable’

Illustrative: BDS movement in France. (CC BY-SA, Odemirense, Wikimedia commons)
Illustrative: BDS movement in France. (CC BY-SA, Odemirense, Wikimedia commons)

In a first-of-its-kind incident, a European academic association has reportedly canceled a planned conference in Israel due to fear that it will come under pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Two weeks after the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation (ENMESH) last month concluded its 2019 meeting with a decision to hold its next biennial conference in Jerusalem in 2021, the chairman of its executive committee unilaterally canceled that resolution, Haaretz reported Sunday.

In a letter sent to board members, Mike Slade said his decision came after several members complained about the location, and that he was trying to preempt the resulting outcry from boycott supporters, the report said, citing sources who had read the letter.

Had he gone forward with the plans to hold the next conference in Israel, Slade contended, ENMESH’s work over the next two years would have been dominated by dealing with the controversy and the pressure from anti-Israel activists.

The cancellation caused an uproar, according to the report, with two members of the executive board announcing their resignation: Bernd Puschner, a professor of psychiatry at Ulm University in Germany, and David Roe, an Israeli professor of psychology at the University of Haifa.

Sylvia Tessler-Lozowick, chairwoman of the Israel Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, called the cancellation “startling” in a protest letter to ENMESH, the report said. She charged that the considerations leading to the decision were ”irrelevant and dishonorable for a professional organization.”

“For some of you, it’s an ideological stance. For others an evasion of unpleasantness generated by the ideologues. Whatever your personal reasons, you have compromised your professional values in the name of political posturing,” Tessler-Lozowick reportedly wrote.

In a response to Haaretz, Slade said that after the decision, “several board members from around Europe subsequently raised concerns about the chosen location, while others were supportive of the venue. In my role as chair, I consulted with many colleagues from within and beyond the ENMESH board, including colleagues in Israel, about the best way forward given the differing views expressed by board members.

“Following this consultation, I concluded that it was on balance in the best interests of ENMESH to change plans,” he said. “While I do recognize that the decision will be seen by some as ideological, it was in fact just a practical decision taken in the best interests of ENMESH. No ‘bullying’ was involved and there is no statement being made about supporting or not supporting a boycott of Israel.”

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel says it aims to “work to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”

Critics, including many heads of state, say the organization in fact opposes the existence of Israel as a whole and is a cover for anti-Semitism.

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