Pura Vida

Life in full circle

I Am Not Boycotting Israel

Israeli science and research helps everybody, including Palestinians.

My husband David and I are supporting Israeli research, and proud of it.

 On December 4, 2013, leaders of the American Studies Association voted unanimously for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Then, 5000 members of the ASA were given the chance to vote. 1252 members voted in all; 66.05% voted to boycott and 30.5% voted against, with the rest abstaining. The ASA joined the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) that had voted to boycott Israeli universities and academic institutions in April, 2013. Professor Stephen Hawking joined the boycott in May, 2013. The Association for Asian American Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association have endorsed the boycott, after the vote of the ASA. The Modern Language Association annual meeting 2014 will include a discussion of the boycott. I note that all five organizations are neither scientific nor medical. They are all part of a movement called BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Since the vote of the ASA, there has been quite a backlash: 45 schools have rejected the boycott, including Harvard, Yale. Princeton, Brown, Cornell, University of Chicago, Northwestern University and New York University. Four universities–Brandeis, Penn State Harrisburg, Kenyon College, and Indiana University–have cancelled their institutional membership in the ASA. The American Association of University Professors opposes the boycott.  You can find a full listing of the institutional members of the ASA on their website. Many of the listings are not complete institutions at all, like the University of Alabama Mathematics Department. Curiously, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Mount Scopus is listed as a member. I wonder if they will be asked to leave?

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 The Q&A of the ASA explicitly claims that interfering with individual academic dialogue is not the goal of the boycott:

http://www.theasa.net/what_does_the_academic_boycott_mean_for_the_asa/

Presumably, it is only intended to affect Deans or Presidents of universities. I think this is quibbling. If Stephen Hawking interpreted BDS to mean that he should not give a speech in Israel, why should other scientists or scholars take the narrow view, that this is simply a boycott of institutions, not intended to impair individual scholarship?

I just want to say a little bit, quietly. This blog is about my personal involvement in two areas where I am actively cooperating with Israeli projects. I am not a prominent scholar or academic. I’m a retired physician on the clinical faculty of the University of Washington. A small voice. However, I’m proud and happy about these two Israeli projects, and I think it might be enlightening for people to understand in concrete and specific terms what cooperation with Israeli research can be about. Ironically, both projects would serve to better the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews among others. If either project were to be cancelled because of a boycott of Israeli science or social science, academics from Native American in Canada to Manhattan postmodernists would be worse off.

My first interest is with the Israeli biotech firm called RedHillBio, http://www.redhillbio.com/

RedHillBio purchased the patent for “Myoconda,” the triple antibiotic therapy for Crohn’s Disease developed by Professor Thomas Borody. Dr. Borody is my personal physician, and he saved my life. Myoconda, now called RHB-104, http://www.redhillbio.com/product-pipeline/rhb-104/, a combination of clofazimine, clarithromycin, and rifabutin, is now in stage 3 clinical trials in North America and Israel. This is the first time that the triple antibiotic therapy will be systematically tested among a broad spectrum of people from many places. In addition, RedHill purchased a technique for measuring the presence of Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) so that not only will the drug combination be tested, but also it will be tested with some knowledge about the infectious state of persons with Crohn’s Disease. I am not an investor in RedHill. I don’t own a penny worth of their stock. I am not an academic consultant. And I don’t take any medicines for Crohn’s anymore. However, in my personal writing and speaking, I will continue to direct Crohn’s patients to the RedHillBio so that they can participate in this important research, and perhaps resolve once and for all whether MAP causes Crohn’s, and whether antibiotics against multi-drug resistant TB can treat Crohn’s more effectively, or more safely, than current standard regimes.

This is a good example of what it means to cooperate with an Israeli company. Admittedly, RedHillBio is not an academic institution. It is a private biotech firm. The company is in Tel Aviv, Israel. But in a recent press release documenting that the first patient has been dosed with RHB-104, you can see that the plan is to enroll 240 subjects in over 50 sites in the US, Canada, and Israel. Alberta, Canada, happens to be one of the major hot spots for Crohn’s. I wonder if the Native Americans in Alberta are aware of the RedHill study. http://www.redhillbio.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/RedHill-Biopharma-Announces-First-Patient-Dosed-in-Phase-III-Study-of-RHB-104-for-Crohns-Disease.pdf

Since Crohn’s Disease is a rapidly growing public health problem that affects more than 700,000 people in the US alone, more than half children, the outcome of the RedHill study will have enormous impact. Crohn’s is also growing in Japan, Chile, and other developing countries.

There were 5 million people worldwide with Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis according to http://www.worldibdday.org/ in 2011.

If there were a chance to prevent Crohn’s Disease worldwide, or to treat it with great efficacy, wouldn’t it be immoral to get in the way of serious progress against this disease? Ironically, Crohn’s is particularly common among Ashkenazi Jews due to a genetic anomaly in the NOD2/CARD 15 gene. I would not be surprised if many of the members of the ASA or their families suffer from inflammatory bowel disease. One can argue that the Palestinians live under cruel and inhumane circumstances manufactured by geopolitics. But one could also argue that inflammatory bowel disease is the result of cruel and inhumane treatment of animals and failure of international regulatory agencies to designate MAP a zoonotic pathogen. Fortunately, this is not an either/or situation. Food can and should be made safer. There can and should be better treatments for Crohn’s Disease. A rational 2 state solution for Israel and Palestine can and should be achieved. A boycott of scientific research that might lead to improvement in the lives of people with Crohn’s Disease …in order to help the Palestinians...makes no sense at all.  I think that the ASA members are just clueless about what scientific research and international collaboration is all about!

A second example of my collaboration with Israel: on December 11, 2013, my husband and I were invited to contribute a chapter to a book called Revenge, Retribution, and Reconciliation: Justice and Emotions between Conflict and Mediation that will be edited by Drs. Kim Wuenschmann, Laura Jockusch and Andreas Kraft from the Martin Buber Society of Fellows at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. We have submitted a chapter about redirected aggression, based on our book Payback: why we retaliate, redirect aggression and seek revenge (Oxford University Press, 2011). The intent of the Israeli book is to explore and where possible, to end the perpetration of social injustice. If scholars at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem are exploring the science of conflict with the goal of facilitating reconciliation, who might have benefitted if we had refused to collaborate? The Palestinians? That is ridiculous! Any efforts to understand violence and to promote peace and justice deserve attention and support. Isn’t it wonderful that the Martin Buber Society exists, and that they are studying peace and reconciliation?

A few weeks ago I applied for an email account at an alternative to Gmail. In order to be approved, I had to pass a “political correctness” litmus test, to prove my own progressive credentials. I found this to be laughable and absurd! But isn’t it more absurd to deny appropriate research into legitimate and humane domains of human suffering for the sake of knee-jerk political correctness?

 

Judith Eve Lipton, M.D. is a psychiatrist and book author. She and her husband David Barash have written about sex, war, and human nature.

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