Following fears of a strong public backlash and protests by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation (ENMESH), has decided to cancel its plan to hold a conference in Jerusalem, Israel, in the summer of 2021.
The ENMESH, an association of mental health researchers, is comprised of approximately 400 members. This is the first such decision from an organization of this nature. It had decided to hold its 2021 conference in Jerusalem during its 2019 conference in June in Lisbon, Portugal. However, two weeks later, the executive committee chair of the organization, Mike Slade, wrote to its board members, informing them of the decision to cancel the conference in Israel. Slade, a professor at the University of Nottingham, wrote that he had “received complaints about the chosen venue from several board members and anticipated a further backlash”.
Slade noted that if “ENMESH went ahead with plans to hold its next conference in Israel, it could expect to spend the next two years embroiled in controversy and under pressure from the boycott campaign.”
The decision has also led to some internal backlash within the organization, with the Israeli representative on the executive board, David Roe, resigning. The secretary of the executive committee, German professor Bernd Puschner, resigned as well.
The chair of the Israeli psychiatric rehabilitation association, Sylvia Tessler-Lozowick, criticized the cancellation, calling it ‘political posturing’.
Last year, in a similar situation, the International Association of Relational Psychoanalysts and Psychotherapists (IARPP) faced an international boycott campaign that urged the IARPP to cancel its scheduled 2019 conference in Tel Aviv. Around a 100 out of the association’s 2,200 members pledged to boycott the Tel Aviv conference at the 2018 conference in New York.
Members of the association were issued appeals by the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists as well as the international People’s Health Movement to boycott the conference. Palestinian and international social workers and psychologists were also urged not to participate in the conference, saying that participation “gives implicit support to Israeli policies” that violate the human rights of Palestinians.
They also stated that the participation of Palestinians in the conference could be used to “undermine the efforts of those who protest the human rights violations by Israel” and to “discredit the academic and cultural boycott of Israel”.
Other organizations, including the Psychoactive – Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights, the USA and UK Palestine Mental Health Network, and the Jewish Voice for Peace, also put out statements and started petitions addressed to the IARPP board, urging it to reconsider the location of the conference. More than 1,400 professionals and activists extended their support to these organizations.