How scientists are being squeezed to take sides in conflict between Israel and Palestine

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On October 7, Hamas—the organization in command of the Gaza Strip, and which is designated a terrorist group by the US—launched a surprise attack into Israel, during which it killed more than 1,400 people and took hostages. Israel has been responding with a campaign of air strikes on Gaza that are rapidly raising the body count, with thousands more killed, according to news reports.

For a nation of fewer than 10 million, Israel plays an outsize role in science and medicine. It’s a land of biotech startups, the nation where covid-19 vaccines were first tried at scale, and home to many prominent biologists, among them Jacob Hanna, a stem-cell expert whose work we have covered and whose predictions about the direction of cutting-edge science I value.

Hanna is an Israeli citizen and a professor at the state-funded Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. But he’s also a Palestinian from a Christian background whose social media profile has an image saying “F*ck the Occupation” as well as “Arab and Jews refuse to be enemies.”

A day after the attack, Hanna posted a public comment: “Barbarism has many forms. Occupation & 18 year old siege is also one of them,” he wrote, in a reference to the confinement of Palestinians to Gaza.

Hanna immediately came under withering scrutiny from other scientists, including some at his university. Why wasn’t he first and foremost condemning Hamas? Researchers questioned whether he should keep his funding, and Jonathan Kipnis, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis, said Hanna should leave Israel if he doesn’t like it.

“Maybe then he should move to Gaza and be the best scientist there and support his brethren,” Kipnis wrote on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. (Kipnis would later tell me, “It was a stupid tweet of mine, which I deleted and apologized.”)

To Hanna, the replies were “racist and condescending,” and he hasn’t changed his views. (He is against all violence and calls Hamas a “terrible violent and terrorist organization.”) But he also doesn’t want to only single out Hamas. Doing so, he says, would just be playing what he calls “the condemnation games” with people who are themselves unwilling to denounce Israel’s past actions toward Palestinians. 

But the pressure campaign has done its work. Hanna deleted his post about barbarism and several others. “I decided I don’t want politics on my feed anymore, and I don’t want fights,” he told me. “The posts were not intended to provoke fights. l was airing my thoughts and my frustration.”



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