George P. Smith, one of the winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is a veteran supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as part of his pro-Palestinian activism.
Smith, professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia, was named Wednesday as a co-winner of the prestigious award for his efforts in harnessing evolution to produce new enzymes and antibodies.
Smith’s political activity has made him a controversial figure at the University of Missouri, where he is a tenured professor, and a target of pro-Israel groups. He appears on the controversial Canary Mission website, which publishes online dossiers on pro-Palestinian professors, students and campus speakers, and has been referenced by Israeli officials when refusing activists entry to the country.
His most controversial moment came in 2015 when he attempted to teach an honors tutorial outside his academic field called “Perspective on Zionism.” The course was to have included as a central text “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by Israeli historian and anti-Zionist Ilan Pappe, according to a report in the Columbia Daily Tribune that quoted Smith as defining his position as wishing “not for Israel’s Jewish population to be expelled,” but “an end to the discriminatory regime in Palestine.” He is opposed, he said, to “Jewish ethnic sovereignty over other peoples.”
Following protests by university alumni, pro-Israel student groups and an outcry by pro-Israel advocacy groups, his course was canceled, the cancellation attributed to “a lack of enrollment.”
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That controversy, however, has not deterred Smith from continuing to speak out. He has continued to write Op-Eds and letters to newspapers on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In April, he penned an opinion piece condemning Israeli actions in Gaza, identifying himself as a member of Mid-Missourians for Justice in Palestine and the Missouri Right to Boycott coalition.
Smith opened by recounting then-Israeli army Gen. Moshe Dayan’s words in 1956 declaring at the funeral of an Israeli killed by Palestinians on the Gaza border: “Without the steel helmet and the cannon’s maw we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home. Let us not be deterred from seeing the loathing that is inflaming ... the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who live around us ... lest the sword be stricken from our fist and our lives cut down.”
In his conclusion, Smith called the BDS movement “Palestinian civil society’s call for the global community of conscience to ostracize Israeli businesses and institutions until Israel repudiates Dayan’s abhorrent syllogism and the Palestinian people, including the exiles, achieve full equality with Jews in their shared homeland.”