Daniel Orenstein

A supportive word for Israeli research students…

source: Public Domain
The season of academic conferences. (Source: Public domain,

Dear Israeli graduate students and young researchers,

Its summer time, and many of you will be traveling soon to present your research in international conferences and workshops. Congratulations! This is one of the most important aspects of your academic career, and hopefully an enjoyable one as well. This is first and foremost an opportunity for you to share your work, get crucial feedback and critique, meet international colleagues, and build your network.

Unfortunately, your participation in conferences also comes at a time of unprecedented demonstration and efforts to ostracize Israeli academics and exclude them (us) from engaging with our international colleagues. Regardless of your political opinions, ethnicity, gender, nationality, or religion, I oppose efforts to inhibit your ability to present your research and reap the benefits of international collaboration. Not only is it discriminatory towards you, but it is a case of extreme academic dishonesty – not only are Israeli opinions being challenged, we are also being excluded from presenting them altogether.

Nonetheless, you are traveling as scientists, and not ambassadors. And most doors still remain open to you. In hopes of helping you prepare for whatever awaits this summer, I offer a few recommendations.

Enjoy yourself and learn. Focus first and foremost on enjoying the conference and the academic experience. Assume (because it is likely true) that most people you meet are good, rational, curious, fair-minded, and committed to free academic exchange. Also assume that there may be people who don’t want to hear or speak to you and some who may even want to prevent you from speaking or participating. As the saying goes, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” Assuming the best is a belief that your visit/presentation will be smooth and productive. Preparing for the worst suggests that you should plan in advance how you want to respond to potential disruption and meanness.

Be informed and aware. Several universities have already decided to sever their relations with Israeli academic institutions. Many individual academics, students, and professional organizations already endorse the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement. However, that should not affect you presenting at the conference because (officially) these are boycotts against institutions and not individuals. While I would argue that there is little difference between the two, boycotting an individual contradicts the official position of these organizations. Anyway, it is important that you are aware of the political environment of the university or academic organization you will be visiting. While I certainly do not endorse these arguments, you may want to familiarize yourself with the arguments your colleagues may offer for wanting to boycott Israeli academic institutions (here and here are representative arguments). You may also want to familiarize yourself with counter-arguments (here and here, or even something I wrote some years ago).

Be cautious, but honest. When engaging on the topic of the Gaza-Israel or Hezbollah-Israel war and all its myriad implications and aspects, speak cautiously (so as not to be misinterpreted), but honestly and openly. I do not believe that you must feel like ambassadors of Israel, particularly if you disagree with current government policies. If you oppose certain policies or aspects of the war, then share your opposition. If you agree, share your arguments about why you agree. Most of us are somewhere in the middle – these are difficult and confusing times. But in the end, it is most important that you are true to yourself, your conscience, and your understanding of current events.

Don’t be alone. Contact “friendly” participants prior to the conference, including local colleagues who work comfortably with Israelis or other Israelis participating in the conference. You may also notify the Israeli embassy or consulate that you are participating in a conference in their country.

Be confident. If you are nervous (it’s natural to be nervous presenting your research, but we have additional reasons to be nervous), channel the spirit of Eden Golan, who faced thousands of critics and haters, and was mistreated by her own co-participants in Eurovision, yet she faced the challenge, performed beautifully, and did so with grace and humility. You may also want to watch how this Israeli comedian deals with a heckler with respect, sensitivity, and wit. So, if you face adversity, try to respond with maturity, patience, and confidence.

Most importantly, be safe. If, for any reason, you do not feel safe in the conference venue, do not hesitate to leave for a safer place. You can consider contacting the conference organizers and sharing your concerns, but it is of utmost importance that you do not remain in any environment where you feel unsafe.

For another additional and excellent bit of advice [in Hebrew] on presenting at academic conferences during times of war and opposition, the Israel Young Academy prepared an essay here.

Good luck. I sincerely hope you have an opportunity to share your research and learn about the research of your colleagues. On behalf of all of us who have been in this business for a while, we’re proud of you!

About the Author
Daniel Orenstein is an associate professor in the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. His research interests include human-nature interactions, environmental issues in Israel and globally, and public engagement in environmental policy. His general interests are much broader.
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