European academic association cancels conference in Israel

A European association of mental health researchers has cancelled plans to hold its next conference in Israel over fears of a backlash from the international boycott movement.

This is the first time that an organisation of this kind has walked back on an already approved decision to hold a conference in Israel, indicating that the campaign to boycott Israeli academics may be gaining traction.

The European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation (ENMESH), which has 400 members, had decided at its last biennial conference that its next gathering would take place in Jerusalem. The official announcement was made on the closing day of the three-day conference.

However, Mike Slade, a professor of mental health recovery and social inclusion at the University of Nottingham who serves as chairman of the executive committee, sent a letter to members of the ENMESH board notifying them of his unilateral decision not to hold the conference in Jerusalem.

He explained in his letter, according to sources with whom it was shared, that this was essentially an attempt at damage control since he had received complaints about the chosen venue from several board members and anticipated a further backlash. He noted in the letter that if the organisation went ahead with plans to hold its next conference in Israel, it could expect to spend the next two years embroiled in controversy and under pressure from the boycott campaign.

The cancellation has sparked outrage among some members of the association: Bernd Puschner, a professor of psychiatry at Ulm University in Germany who serves as secretary of the executive committee, resigned in protest. So has David Roe, a professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, the Israeli representative on the executive board.

The decision has also prompted a letter of protest from the Israel Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, which has many members active in ENMESH. In the letter, Sylvia Tessler-Lozowick, chair of the Jerusalem-based organisation, referred to the cancellation as “startling” and charged that it was motivated by considerations she termed ”irrelevant and dishonourable for a professional organisation.

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