Monday, August 24, 2009

Support Jewish Voice for Peace Campaign

Dear reader,

Defend academic freedom

Defend the right to talk about boycott, divestment, and sanctions

On Thursday, August 20 the LA Times published an op-ed in which Ben Gurion University Professor Neve Gordon, a prominent political scientist and long-time peace activist, wrote that the question that kept him up at night, both as a parent and as an Israeli citizen, was how to ensure that his two children as well as the children of his Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime. His pained conclusion is that the only strategy left is "massive international pressure" in the form of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). He therefore endorses the Palestinian BDS campaign proposed by a wide swath of Palestinian civil society.(1)

Following the publication of the article there has been a vehement and aggressive attack against Gordon in Israel that calls into serious question Israel's committment to academic freedom and the democratic right to free speech.

We now believe that "massive international pressure" will be needed to keep him from being fired from his job.

Tell Ben Gurion University and the Israeli Minister of Education to defend academic freedom.

Prof. Gordon's endorsement of economic pressure offers what Naomi Klein termed "the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal" to address the Israeli occupation (2).

And yet, Prof. Rivka Carmi, the President of Ben Gurion University, was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying that the "university may no longer be interested in his services." She added that "Academics who feel this way about their country, are welcome to search for a personal and professional home elsewhere." (3)

Is Prof. Carmi really calling on Prof. Gordon to leave his country?

Several Knesset members from the right called upon Carmi and the Minister of Education to sack Neve Gordon, while Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar called the article "repugnant and deplorable."(4) In the thousands of talkbacks generated by articles in Israel, hundreds of angry readers have called Gordon a traitor, a virus, cancerous, and have threatened to expel him from Israel and some have even called for his execution. Unsurprisingly Israeli rights-abusive policies, the occupation and how one might resolve the conflict are side-stepped, and the central issue becomes how to do away with the messenger.

In Prof. Gordon' words: "From the responses to the article it seems most people don't have the courage to discuss the main issues: Is Israel an apartheid state? How can the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved? Is the settlement project good for Israel or will it cause the state's destruction? It's easy to criticize me while evading the tough and important questions." (5)

The dismaying response to Prof. Gordon's article is but the latest manifestation of attempts to silence dissent within Israel. In only the last six months, activists from New Profile have been arrested and investigated, Ezra Nawi is in danger of going to jail for non-violently defending the destruction of a Palestinian home, and just last week the Vice Prime Minister called Peace Now "a virus." Are these the actions of a democracy?

BDS is a legitimate non-violent strategy with a storied history, most famously in South Africa. It deserves honest, thoughtful appraisal, such as Dr. Gordon offered in his recent article. By supporting Professor Gordon, we are protecting the ability to talk openly about the Israeli occupation and about nonviolent options to address it, including boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

Write a letter to the President of Ben Gurion University and to the Ministry of Education in Israel to defend Dr. Neve Gordon's, and every Israeli's, ability to discuss political issues without fear of losing their jobs.

Sydney Levy
Jewish Voice for Peace


Friday, August 21, 2009

What is it with 'these' people?

I don't get it! There have been reports this week that 'illegal' refugees who tried to cross into Italy from Libya's coast were left to die when their little boat ran out of gas, food and importantly water three days into their journey. Only about 5 out of a total of 80 made it. The others died eventually because they drank sea water, starved etc. The survivors were picked up eventually by the Italian coast guard. They told journalists that several ships passed them by and ignored their pleading. One even dropped a bit of water to them and disappeared thereafter.

How can people call themselves civilized who choose to do nothing at all to prevent almost certain death of other human beings when their direct and immediate action could have prevented such a harm from occurring? Surely the cost of taking the refugees on-board would not have fallen into the category of overwhelming burden or serious risk to one's own life. They could have even radioed the Italian or Libyan coast guard to pick those dying folks off the seas, yet these seafarers chose to do nothing at all.

Boggles the mind!

ps: I'm not even going to comment on the US health care debacle. How daft can people be and still be taken seriously ...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Those HIV serodiscordant couples' studies...

There has been some evidence that if guys are circumcised they're less likely to pick up HIV (and possibly other STIs) from people they happen to have unsafe sex with. Some clever public health folks wanted to know whether that cuts also the other way round, ie whether HIV infected men are less likely to transmit the bug when they're circumcised. What better place to investigate such speculations than Africa.

The medical journal THE LANCET just published a piece testing just this hypothesis. The investigators recruited 922 uncircumcised HIV infected men whose female partners happened to be still HIV negative. They then circumcised half of the guys. The women were informed of the objective of the study, but - as far as I can see - it was left open whether the male partner was HIV infected or not. This was so, because in addition to the infected guys they also had non-infected guys in the study, but obviously they were not 'counted' as there was nothing these guys could have passed on to their partners anyhow. So the women had no certainty to assume that their partner was HIV infected (as opposed to the next woman's partner). Indeed, the study authors concede that 'Inclusion of only couples who agreed before enrolment to couples' counselling and result disclosure [sic!] might have resulted in lower HIV transmission rates in both trial groups.' (p.236)

The investigators jumped otherwise thru the usual ethics loops, there's informed consent, folks were counselled to use condoms and that safe sex is imperative. To give them credit where credit is due: anyone who seroconverted during the study (ie who became infected) will be supplied with life-preserving AIDS medication when that is clinically indicated. So, HIV negative women who seroconverted during the study will be offered chemotherapy.

I've got to be honest: I do not believe such studies ought to take place. For starters, there was truly no good reason to assume that circumcision would have any impact whatsoever on transmission rates - and, surprise, surprise, it had no impact. Still, epidemiologists do what epidemiologists do best, they watch and report. So, in our case we had medical professionals who knew that there were a large number of HIV infected men whose partners did not positively know of their infection - the study authors confirm this for a quarter of each group. They then stood idly by and watched what happened. Turns out that circumcision doesn't reduce HIV transmission rates.

I can't get my head around the idea that the medical researchers should have had no moral obligations to warn the women in this study of the HIV infection of their partner. Now, you'll object that that would defeat the purpose of this study. You are right, but it would reduce the incidence of HIV infection and premature death among the women in question. You'll say that that would also prevent the investigators from undertaking this study. Exactly, that is why I think such research should not take place.

We know already what prevents HIV transmission. Put infected people on AIDS medicines (HAART) and drop all the social science investigative nonsense. You'll say that for us to do that we need more cash and more people tested. You're right on both counts. A good start could have been not to waste money on such research then and use the cash where it demonstrably would do some good.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Your thoughts on the KINDLE are sought

I'm sure you have seen, heard of or tried Amazon's kindle reader. It's a device that permits you to download books to a portable reader and ... umm read them there. There's several advantages to this: One thing is that you can carry quite a few 'books' with you on the one device, so for those frequent travellers among us, that's a truly neat thing. There also seems to be a slightly less wasteful production process (no books are being printed, paper wasted, ink produced etc - on the other hand, you need to produce another digital product that's likely filling up the landfills in African and other developing countries within a few years).

What annoys me about this piece is that (at least until very recently) Amazon could remotely delete content from the device, that its format is proprietory (ie you have to download from amazon), that its readability is questionable (particularly when there's bright sunshine) and importantly that you save only pennies on the price of a printed volume. The latter is particularly odd, given that the cost of printing a book are much much more substantial than the cost of sending a file to someone.

What are your views on the kindle??

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