Science magazine’s editorial bias against Palestinians

After reading Science’s absurdly one-sided story (February 28, 2024) on the effect of the genocide in Gaza on Israeli academics, I wrote an email to the news editor to intervene. He responded by offering to publish parts of the email as a “letter” in response to the story. I then reworked the text of the email to prepare it for publication and submitted a draft. The editor sent it back with substantial deletions, notably removing the paragraph describing the deliberate nature of the Israeli military’s destruction of academic life in Gaza. The sentence in which I explained the principles of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was also removed, on the grounds that “[w]e often don’t know the motivations of those calling for or practicing a boycott.” I pointed out to the editor that the initial story had speculated freely about the supposed antisemitic motivations of alleged boycotts of Israeli academics and insisted on retaining the deleted passages. The editor declined to withdraw the deletions and I decided not to allow the text to be published in amputated form. Below is the text, including the passages Science refused to publish.

It is grotesquely disproportionate to run a story on Israeli academics’ self-reported worries about possible difficulties in getting their articles published without so much as mentioning that the Israeli military has reportedly killed at least 94 Palestinian university professors and over 4,000 students since October. All 12 universities in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 625,000 students in Gaza currently have no access to education, not to mention the 1.7 million internally displaced people and the 2.2 million currently facing acute starvation at IPC Phase 3 levels or above.

The article dismissively refers in passing to “the Gaza Strip’s relatively small scientific enterprise” and contrasts it with “Israel’s far larger research community,” to which the rest of the article is dedicated. It seems as though we’re meant to conclude that the destruction of the “relatively small scientific enterprise” in Gaza doesn’t matter in comparison with Israeli academics potentially being invited less frequently to conferences. Failing to mention the 16-year Israeli blockade of Gaza, which—long before 7 October—prevented the entry of equipment and materials needed for research as well as the exit of academics trying to collaborate with partners outside Gaza, is an egregious omission.

The article states that “attacks on Hamas forces by Israel’s military have destroyed university buildings and other infrastructure,” despite the overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces have deliberately targeted civilian structures such as universities rather than simply destroying them incidentally in attacks on Hamas. The clearest instance is the Israeli military’s apparent controlled demolition of Al-Israa University in January, after they had used the site as a base and detention center for several weeks. This and other targeted attacks on academic life in Gaza have led the organization Scholars Against the War on Palestine to describe the Israeli military as committing “scholasticide”: “systemic destruction, in whole or in part, of the educational life of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.”

Finally, the article quotes without comment an Israeli academic’s unfounded speculation about a “slippery slope of hatred” leading to anyone with a “Jewish name” being subject to boycott. However, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) clearly states in its “Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel” that “the [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] movement, including PACBI, rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion.” Individual Israeli academics, not to mention Jewish academics outside Israel, are not the target of the campaign, which is instead focused on partnerships with Israeli institutions such as the European Union’s Horizon Europe program.

By not explaining the principles of the academic boycott of Israel or even quoting a single critic of Israel’s policies and actions towards the Palestinian people, the article conflates opposition to the decades-long displacement and oppression of Palestinians with antisemitism, which is a common manifestation of anti-Palestinian racism. In addition to providing cover for that oppression, this conflation makes combatting actual antisemitism harder by falsely tying the Jewish people as a whole to the actions of the State of Israel. 

I hope Science will begin to devote a more proportionate amount of attention to the Palestinian scientists living under indiscriminate bombardment and now facing famine conditions due to Israeli restrictions on aid entering Gaza, as well as the continual raids, arrests, and other obstructions on universities in the West Bank.

Josh Lalonde
Science for the People