Scientists Want Inquiry Into Absence of Israelis at Jordan Chemistry Conference

The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities has asked an international chemistry association to examine whether organizers of an upcoming conference in Jordan deliberately excluded Israeli researchers from the list of invited speakers.

The request followed a call by Roald Hoffman, a Nobel laureate in chemistry at Cornell University, to boycott the event, whose 110 speakers do not include a single Israeli.

The 11th Eurasia Conference on Chemical Sciences, scheduled for October 6-8 at a conference center on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, is aimed at exposing young scientists from developing countries to some of the world's leading researchers. The biennial event has previously been hosted in countries as varied as Turkey, Pakistan, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Hoffmann allegations of discrimination were first reported on the website of the journal Science earlier this month. After being invited to the conference, he asked organizers to set up a workshop for young scientists with another Nobel laureate, Dudley Herschbach, the journal said. Noticing that no Israelis had been invited to speak, the two researchers asked organizers to invite Israeli students to the workshop as well.

But after this request was lodged, the workshop was canceled, Hoffman said. "That's when I became suspicious," he added.

He then launched a letter-writing campaign to urge colleagues around the world not to attend the convention.

Joshua Jortner, a former president of both the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC ) and Israel's scientific academy, wrote to outgoing IUPAC president Jung-Il Jin and his successor, Nicole Moreau, asking that they look into the matter.

"As a former President of IUPAC I take the liberty of writing directly to you about an issue that received special attention from me during my tenure; adherence to the principle of the freedom of motion of scientists," Jortner wrote. "I am deeply concerned that this principle is being violated and that the exclusion from a scientific meeting of certain scientists due to their national origin may be imminent."

Jortner conceded that other countries will also not be represented at the conference, but said that "given the quality of chemical research carried out in Israel, given the close proximity of Israel to Jordan and given the purpose of the meeting to bring together scientists from Europe and Asia, I can only assume that this is intentional."

IUPAC has yet to issue an official statement on the matter, but Moreau wrote in response to Hoffmann's request that the organization does not intend to withdraw its backing of the Jordanian conference and is not authorized to intervene in decisions made by the event's organizing committee.

Moreau said that to her knowledge, no Israelis had been intentionally left off of the speaker list. "If we look at the list of invited speakers, many countries are not represented, such as Spain for example," she wrote. "We haven't received a single complaint from Spanish chemists."

Musa Nazer, chair of the Jordanian organizing committee, told participating scientists in an email message that since the event was announced two and a half years ago, "no interest has been expressed from any Israeli chemist or nominations received in time." Nazer added that Israeli researchers had participated in Jordanian scientific conferences several times in the past.

"Our impression is that this is a boycott of Israel," Jortner told Haaretz on Tuesday. "Representation is not based on countries, nor should it be. But it should be based on quality, and Israeli chemistry is among the best in the world. We have three Nobel laureates in chemistry - Ada Yonath, Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover - and none was invited."