Sergei Yakovenko's blog: on Math and Teaching

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Vorderer Orient boycotts Ariel University Center

Filed under: opinion — Sergei Yakovenko @ 4:25

The German Middle East Studies Association (DAVO by its German acronym) represented by its President, Prof. Dr. Gunter Meyer (pictured) recently sent the following email to Dr. Ronen A. Cohen, a young Israeli scholar from the Ariel University Center.

From: Meyer, Guenter
Date: Sat, Sep 3, 2011 at 3:07 PM
Subject: Cancellation of Participation in the DAVO Congress
To: Ronen A. Cohen

Dear Ronen A. Cohen,

I am very sorry to inform you that the Council of the German Middle East Studies Association (DAVO) has decided to cancel your participation in the 18th International Congress of DAVO in Berlin on 6-8 October 2011.

It is not acceptable that a representative of an illegally established Israeli university in the occupied territories is participating in this conference. The settlement of Ariel represents a clear violation of international law. This cannot be tolerated by DAVO.

I would like to stress that this decision of the DAVO Council has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Scholars from Israel are most welcome as participants of this international conference – but scholars from an illegal university in the occupied territories are not welcome.

Yours sincerely,

Guenter Meyer

Chairman of DAVO

I found this letter outrageous on several counts. The following response was sent today to the Prof. Dr. Georg Krausch, President of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, which hosts the DAVO, with copies to the Chancellor of JGU Mainz, Dr. Ronen A. Cohen from AUC and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Günter Meyer himself.

Dear Mr. President,

Recently I received a copy of the email sent by Prof. Dr. Guenter Meyer, President of DAVO, to an Israeli Middle East scholar Dr. Ronen A. Cohen from the Ariel University Center. In this email Prof. Meyer cancels participation of Dr. Cohen in the 18th International Congress of DAVO because of the latter being “scholar from an illegal university in the occupied territories” (I quote the email).

It is difficult to decide what is more disturbing, the mere fact that an academic is excluded from a scientific event based on purely political considerations, or the offensive rhetoric used by Prof. Meyer in his letter.

I do not believe I need to elaborate on the inadmissibility of all sorts of politically driven boycotts and other forms of discrimination in the area of scholar research, where all disputes can and should be settled in honest discussions.

Prof. Meyer writes in his email:

“It is not acceptable that a representative of an illegally established Israeli university in the occupied territories is participating in this conference. The settlement of Ariel represents a clear violation of international law. This cannot be tolerated by DAVO.”

Having spent my youth in a totalitarian Soviet society, I could not dream that twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall and dissolution of the Communist regimes in Europe, I would again see such sadly familiar expressions in official documents. The last time I heard of an “illegally established university” was when the KGB raided the Popular Jewish University established by a few activists in Moscow in mid-1980-ies. Besides, as a prominent Middle East scholar, Prof. Meyer should be certainly aware that the territories contested by Jews and Arabs in the historic Palestine are disputed and not occupied, since no legitimate state ever had any claims on them. Using such one-sided and patently anti-Israeli language is unacceptable in the scientific community, especially among the scholars studying so charged and sensitive issues as the Middle East realities.

I firmly believe that the cancellation of Dr. Cohen’s participation in the DAVO meeting should be immediately rescinded. Besides, I think that some form of apology or at least disavowal on behalf of Prof. Meyer would be well in place, as if to dispel the feeling of uneasiness about the scientific integrity of DAVO and its President.

With my most sincere respect,

Prof. Sergei Yakovenko,
Head, Department of Mathematics,
The Weizmann Institute of Science.

For those who might wish to voice their opinion on the academic integrity of DAVO, here are the relevant emails:
President of JGU Mainz, Prof. Dr. Georg Krausch:      krausch@uni-mainz.de
Univ.-Prof. Dr. Günter Meyer:                                              g.meyer@geo.uni-mainz.de
The office of the Chancellor of JGU:                                  regina.dietz@uni-mainz.de
Dr. Ronen A. Cohen, AUC:                                                      ronenco@ariel.ac.il
Prof. Michael Zinigrad, Rector, AUC:                                rector@ariel.ac.il


Update. Less then 24 hours after this post was published and the letter sent, Prof. Dr. Meyer rescinded the cancellation and apologized to Dr. Ronen A. Cohen:

It is a pleasure for me to inform you that the Council of DAVO and the organizers of the DAVO Congress have accepted the argument that academic freedom should have priority in comparison to considerations of international law. Therefore, you are welcome as participant of the DAVO Congress.
I would like to apologize personally for any inconveniences which you might have suffered from the rejection of your participation.
I look forward to meeting you in Berlin.

I thank all who took the issue as seriously as it deserved and helped to restore the genuine values to their proper place.

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