Dan David Award from Israel and vaccine apartheid | Middle East News

When we circulated a open letter Calling on Australian professor Alison Bashford to reconsider accepting Israel’s Dan David Prize, we expected our call to receive massive support from academics around the world. We were right. More than 300 academics and researchers have signed to date and the list of signatories continues to grow.

Bashford is one of seven winners of the award, which this year was awarded for scientific contributions in the fields of public health and medicine. The $ 3 million prize pool will be split between the seven: $ 1 million for Anthony Fauci, the prominent infectious disease specialist and US presidential adviser; $ 1 million being shared by three scientists for their contributions to molecular medicine; and $ 1 million shared between Bashford, who studies the history of medicine and health in relation to global and environmental history, Keith Wailoo, who works on racial, scientific and health equity in the United States, and Katherine Park, who studies medieval and Renaissance. Drug.

The arguments against accepting the prize money apply to all seven recipients – but, as Australian researchers, we felt we had a special obligation and opportunity to appeal to Bashford.

Announcing the award, the chairman of the Dan David Foundation, Itamar Rabinovich, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said the choice of scientific fields had been influenced by the impact of the pandemic on all aspects of the disease. life.

The award comes at a time when Israel is celebrating its remarkable progress in immunizing its people. The country ranks first in the world in terms of the percentage of the population vaccinated. The government recently said that about half of Israeli citizens took the first dose and 35% the second.

But, like other scientific achievements that Israel has celebrated, this one is set against the backdrop of Palestinian oppression. While the Israeli government is already bragging about a sharp drop in COVID-19 cases, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, they are skyrocketing. The Palestinians find themselves in another lockdown in an attempt to control the outbreak, as there has not been a steady supply of vaccines for them.

For months, Israel has refused to vaccinate Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, even though that is its legal responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention. In March 2020, the UN special rapporteur for the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, Michael Lynk, reminded Israel in a statement that “the legal obligation, enshrined in article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, demands that Israel, the occupying Power, must ensure that all the necessary preventive means at its disposal are used to “fight against the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics” ”.

Yet not only is Israel actively blocking the delivery of vaccines to Palestinians, it is in fact sending excess doses to countries like Honduras, the Czech Republic and Hungary, as a reward for political favors, such as their pledges to move their embassies to Jerusalem or to open embassy branches there.

Perhaps in the excitement of having won such a large sum of money and the idealistic celebrations of human progress, it was easy to forget the five million Palestinians under full Israeli occupation, with no meaningful protection against the pandemic and permanently subject to serious, arbitrary dispossession. imprisonment, extrajudicial executions, exile, mourning and repression imposed on them by Israel.

But nothing compels any of the Dan David winners to accept the award. In fact, this constitutes a direct violation of the Palestinian call to boycott both Israeli academic institutions and cultural activities that obscure Israel’s apartheid policy.

Tel Aviv University, where the prize is administered and its headquarters, contributes significantly to Israel’s ongoing war effort against the Palestinians, through its structural ties to Israel’s military and political architecture. , including fee waivers and scholarships for Israeli soldiers, and its complicity in the violent occupation of Palestinian land.

There is already a precedent for rejection of the award. In 2018, British historian Catherine Hall turned down the award in what she described as “an independent political choice” – a choice that, to many, seemed admirably consistent with her progressive academic work on the history of gender, race and slavery.

Some argue that college boycotts violate “academic freedom” and therefore should be rejected. But as many have argued on several occasions, including the two of us, the obligation to boycott those who violate human rights or those who are part of a system that violates human rights, fully justifies researchers making the moral and political choice not to join in.

However, what is striking about the Dan David Prize is the fact that it escapes any argument in favor of “academic freedom”. No one violates academic freedom by not accepting cash prizes. As a result, there is simply no policy reason why academics should not do what their Palestinian colleagues keep asking and refuse the award.

This is even more the case when we examine the conclusions some of the winners have drawn from their own research.

In his 2014 book, Pain: A Political History, for example, Wailoo explains how people with pain often “saw their particular complaints … being driven and defined by the broader political controversies of the time.” He deplores the fact that people in suffering become “accessories” in a “political theater”.

The Palestinians would agree. Americans “have a cultural problem understanding the pain of others,” says Wailoo, stressing the need to look “critically and closely” at those who judge the pain of others.

Yet despite the empathy for the suffering he expresses in his book, Wailoo still feels able to accept a price from the very heart of the political and academic establishment that brutally suppresses the Palestinians, and is now using a global pandemic. to continue the ethnic cleansing of an entire people.

Accepting the price also appears to contradict what Bashford wrote and said as a scholar. Her research examines, among other things, the segregation of populations, for example through quarantine, a measure she describes in her 2003 book, Imperial Hygiene, “both hygienic – that is, within public – and racial – health within the framework of race management systems and cultures ”. In view of this, one has to wonder how Bashford would view the vaccine apartheid that Israel currently practices.

In a 2003 essay co-authored with Carolyn Strange, Bashford noted that “it is difficult to imagine the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, for example, without the chorus of international calls to release political prisoners from high level at Robben Island ”. However, when it comes to participating in a call for an end to apartheid in Israel, Bashford seems to have forgotten his own lesson.

There is no doubt that Israel’s academic institutions are powerful pillars on which state oppression rests. Israeli universities provide the state with science, military technology, and strategic and ideological tools that strengthen and justify its occupation regime and apartheid.

Accepting the prize undoubtedly yields financial gains, but the moral cost will be too high, as it puts the recipients on the wrong side of history, supporting and whitewashing a system of oppression, injustice and tyranny.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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