George P. Smith and 19 other scientists signed an open letter last week that calls on “all students and mentors from all over the world not to participate in the next International Physics Olympiad in Israel and to stand for human rights of the young Palestinian pupils and students, including their right to education.”
Smith, emeritus professor of biology at the University of Missouri, won last year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry for his invention of a process to evolve proteins that can be used to develop new medicines.The International Physics Olympiad claims that its goal is to plant “the seeds of cooperation and friendship among students from all over the world.”
But the scientists’ letter notes that “Under the present circumstances, citizens of many countries are de facto excluded from entering Israel and attending the IPhO, not to mention Palestinian students from the West Bank and Gaza.”
“As academics and citizens we wish to draw your attention to the serious situation facing Palestinian schoolchildren, students and teachers,” the letter adds.
“The people in Gaza live under a harsh blockade, students and academics cannot leave even if they have a scholarship to study abroad.”
Other signatories include Catherine Goldstein, research director at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, Ivar Ekeland, former president of the Université Paris-Dauphine, and Emmanuel Farjoun, mathematics professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The scientists name two of more than 200 Palestinian children currently in Israeli military detention: High school students Omar Zahran and Jawad Hdaib have both been in an Israeli prison without trial since last year, according to the letter.
The International Phyisics Olympiad in Tel Aviv is being sponsored by Israel’s education ministry, which until this week was headed by Naftali Bennett, a far-right anti-Palestinian politician who has boasted of his record of killing Arabs.
The contest is hosted by Tel Aviv University, which is itself deeply complicit in Israel’s system of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid against Palestinians.
Israel promotes itself as a center of science and technology, however scientific research, including some funded by the European Union, is often a cover for developing Israel’s war industry.
“We call on the boards of other International Science Olympiads to refrain from organizing their future contests in Israel, as long as it continues its military occupation and apartheid policy, in defiance of international law,” the scientists state.
Smith has previously spoken in support of the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement for Palestinian rights, including during his trip to Stockholm, Sweden, last December to pick up his Nobel Prize.
Watch a video of some of his comments above.