Page last updated at 16:41 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Protests at Israeli science event

Science Museum
A protest is planned outside London's Science Museum on Thursday

Israeli Day of Science events taking place at museums in London and Manchester have been hit by protests.

More than 400 people have signed a British Committee for the Universities of Palestine letter attacking the Zionist Federation event.

Universities whose academics are attending were "complicit" in the policies and weaponry used during the Gaza offensive, the letter claimed.

Organisers insist the events, aimed at secondary schools, are non-political.

They say the events are aimed at igniting young people's interest in science. Senior Israeli academics are lecturing on topics from medical research to energy and water technologies.

However, the letter's author, Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, said: "This is a dubious venture at the best of times but at this particular moment, after the offensive in Gaza, it's particularly insensitive."

It is estimated that 1,300 people were killed, including more than 400 children, during an Israeli offensive in December and January.

[The protesters are] trying now to prevent schoolchildren from being inspired by scientific discovery and innovation
Jonathan Hoffman, Zionist Federation

Critics accused Israel of being disproportionate in its response to militant rocket attacks launched from within Gaza.

Supporters of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (Bricup) letter protested against the day of science outside Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry on Tuesday.

A similar protest is planned to coincide with Thursday's event at the Science Museum in London.

Prof Rosenhead, from the London School of Economics, said around 150 academics had signed the letter, which had been backed by people from all walks of life.

He said the seven institutions involved were "up to their necks" in Israel's actions in Gaza, citing Tel Aviv University as an example.

Its annual review stated that Israel's defence ministry was funding 55 of its projects and that it was helping to enhance the country's "military edge", the professor claimed.

"But they aren't putting up people who design policies for the government and saying look how good we are at killing people," he added.

Zionist Federation vice-chairman Jonathan Hoffman accused Bricup of trying to "prevent schoolchildren from being inspired by scientific discovery and innovation".

He said he was "saddened" the protesters wished "not only to prevent the provision of scientific lectures to sixth formers but also to urge the Science Museum to discriminate against Israeli academics".

'No politics'

"Science transcends borders," he added, referring to a collaboration between Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian researchers to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly.

Bricup has also hit out at the venues for agreeing to host the events, which focus on subjects such as stem cell, cancer and brain research, nanotechnology and solar energy.

The Science Museum insisted in a statement that it was an "apolitical organisation" and was not co-hosting or sponsoring the event, which had been booked for almost a year.

"The event has no political theme. Not to proceed with the event would mean taking a political stand, which would be wholly inappropriate," it said.

"Scientists speaking at the event include a marine biologist, a physicist who works on experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, a nanotechnology expert, a water scientist and a geneticist."

Nobody at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester was available for comment.

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