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Over 300 psychotherapists oppose holding annual research conference in Jerusalem

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The usually quiescent world of psychotherapy has been struck by a blast of anti-occupation activism, in the form of a petition signed by over 300 psychotherapists opposing the choice of The Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR) to hold its annual meeting in Jerusalem this June.

The idea for the petition got started on the joint initiative of the UK-Palestine Mental Health Network and a more loosely affiliated group of anti-occupation therapists in the US.  One prominent American psychoanalyst who has been outspoken in his opposition to the Israeli occupation wrote to J. Christopher Perry, president of the organization, detailing the reasons he believed Jerusalem to be a bad choice for the meeting.  He cited not only the likely difficulty any Palestinian mental health workers interested in attending might encounter given the manifold barriers to free movement imposed by the occupation, but also the deleterious effect of the occupation on the mental health of the Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem.  The choice of an organization dedicated, broadly speaking, to human welfare to hold its annual meeting in such a besieged city would be bitterly ironic, to say the least.  (SPRs website describes it as an international multidisciplinary scientific association dedicated to research in psychotherapythat aims to enhance the empirical basis of the effective practice of psychotherapy worldwide.)

Perrys politically tone-deaf response to the letter explained that as an organization that promotes the free exchange of research and ideasthe organizations conference committee rotates annual meeting sites among disparate cities and regions in order to draw the widest range of potential attendees from across the world.  Perry assured that the organization planned to reach out to any potential Palestinian colleagues who may wish to participate,avoiding mention of the overpowering context of the occupation and the obstacles it would likely impose on the actual attendance of such Palestinian colleagues.

Thus begat the idea to write a petition protesting SPRs decision, with the aim of collecting signatures and disseminating it as widely as possible.  A collective effort on the part of ten anti-occupation activist psychotherapists, the text reads as follows:

Move this conference away from Jerusalem

We, psychotherapists, researchers and other mental health professionals, write to express our dismay at the decision of the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR) to hold its next international conference  in Jerusalem. 

Israels policies in the Occupied Territories, including house demolitions, movement restrictions and imprisonment without trial, cause insecurity, despair, helplessness and humiliation. They create family tension and widespread traumatization, and disrupt child attachment. The calamitous impact of Israels occupation on the psychological health of the Palestinians is well documented.

This conference would be taking place a short walking distance from neighbourhoods where Palestinians are currently being dispossessed of their homes to make way for Israeli settlements, one among many strategies that pose a threat to their very survival in Jerusalem. SPRs collective denial or indifference is evident in the conference publicity published on its website. Jerusalem is here pictured as a city suspended between heaven and earth, East and West, past and present parallel universes of flowing caftans and trendy coffee shops.

We are shocked that, replying to concerns already raised, the organizers consider it adequate to promise to assist Palestinian psychotherapy researchers to attend the conference. This may ease SPR consciences but it is as nothing weighed against the political message they will be sending by meeting in this beleaguered city.

SPRs name ought to be synonymous with intellectual honesty, independence, and a courageous resolve to deal with the truth. Hence we call for the conference to be moved to another venue, following the lead given by the World Association of Infant Mental Health in similar circumstances.

Circulated among colleagues, the petition garnered the signatures of 300 mental health and psychotherapy professionals, including not only Western but also Palestinian psychotherapists, 32 professors and 27 consultants (senior doctors) among them.  The petition was published as a letter to the editor in The Independent in early March, and elicited from one of the papers readers the eminently reasonable suggestion that the conference site be moved to Bethlehem!  

While no formal response to the petition has been forthcoming from Perry or anyone else within the SPR, the current online edition of the organizations newsletter acknowledges that the choice of venue for the conference has been questioned.  Nevertheless after discussion that took place over many emailsthe organization has decided to stick with its decision to hold its annual meeting in Jerusalem.  Skirting the substance of the issues raised in the petition, the statement reasons that:

Every country and society has a need to improve the effectiveness and delivery of psychotherapy which addresses major concerns of public health.  Psychotherapy is based on open dialogue, and like psychotherapy itself, providing a forum for open dialogue is SPRs best contribution to issues that both Israeli and Palestinian colleagues and others may share.

The other authors of the petition and I plan to disseminate our petition/letter as widely as possible over the coming months in advance of the conference.  One of us attempted to post it on the allegedly open and unmoderated SPR list serve as a way of publicizing the issue to members who may not be aware of the controversy, but was blocked from doing so.  So much for the free exchange of ideasand open dialogue.

About Steven Botticelli

Steven Botticelli, Ph.D. is a psychologist/psychoanalyst in NY and a member of JVP-NYC.

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10 Responses

  1. amigo
    March 10, 2016, 4:47 pm

    I cant say I blame them. 300 Psychotherapists could only make a very small dent in curing so many ziocaine druggies.It would take a few brigades to make even an appreciable difference.

    • Lillian Rosengarten
      Lillian Rosengarten
      March 11, 2016, 11:55 am

      I believe you are wrong Amigo. Here is the letter I wrote to them.- “BREAK THE SILENCE”

      I want to share my feelings about holding your conference in Jerusalem. I am a refugee from Nazi Germany, an activist for the end of the occupation as well as having been the only American on the Jewish Boat To Gaza in 2010.

      I believe it is a a mistake to hold your conference in Jerusalem Psychotherapy research can NEVER be above politics. If there is no acknowledgement of the brutal occupation lasting now 50 years, you are complicit. If you are not aware that Zionist Israel declares that Jerusalem belongs only to Jews, that Palestinians do not exist, you are blind. If you do not know that Zionism is an racist , nationalist regime , then you are complicit with Israel’s crimes.

      I am in despair as a Jew for the crimes my people have committed since 1948. I urge you to BREAK THE SILENCE, to speak out against Colonialism and apartheid and to NOT hold your conference in Israel. Perhaps you could hold it Bethlehem which is Palestine. I doubt however that you would be allowed to enter when you arrived at Ben Gurion airport.

      We can no longer be silent. No one is exempt and I hope you will hold your conference somewhere else. You also must know, no Palestinians would be allowed into the country to attend the conference. Please reconsider.

      Lillian Rosengarten LCSW
      author: “Survival And Conscience:Frrom The Shadows Of Nazi Germany To The Jewish Boat To Gaza” (Just World Books 2015)
      translated into German: Ein bewegtes Leben: Von den Schatten Nazi-Deutsshlands zum judischen Boot nach Gaza (Zambon 2014)

      • amigo
        March 11, 2016, 2:49 pm

        Lillian , thanks for the reply. I did not make myself clear enough .I was being ironic in pointing out that it would take an army of psychiatrists to cure all the zio nutters in Jerusalem.

        Of course I am against the SPR holding their conference in Jerusalem.

        Great letter.Thanks for sharing.

  2. oldgeezer
    March 10, 2016, 5:33 pm

    Well I am sure they will note it by it’s proper designation such as Jerusalem, the city occupied by Israel.

    I’m sure it is normal to hold international conferences in conflict zones.

    Not, of course. Follow the money.

    • bryan
      March 11, 2016, 2:15 am

      This is far worse than simply holding a conference in a conflict zone – this is holding a conference in an illegally occupied city and attempting to give an imprimatur of legitimacy to an illegal occupation and a stamp of normality to an illegal occupation regime.

      • Mary T
        Mary T
        March 11, 2016, 7:14 pm

        Absolutely correct.

  3. inbound39
    March 10, 2016, 5:55 pm

    Whoever had the bright idea to hold the Conference in Jerusalem is a very sick individual(s) in need of intensive residential treatment to cure the obvious issue of denial.

  4. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    March 11, 2016, 5:37 am

    Perhaps as a compromise the Gaza Mental Health Foundation would agree to host the conference in Gaza. Plenty of mental health problems for them to research there. Of course they should “reach out” to Israeli psychotherapists and encourage them to attend.

  5. Kay24
    March 11, 2016, 7:09 am

    It seems Obama had given a piece of his mind to an arrogant Nutty.

    “Goldberg wrote that Obama felt that Netanyahu was speaking in an arrogant manner and trying to shift the discussion from the peace process to other issues. Obama said he cut of the prime minister’s lecturing and took him to task. 
    “Bibi, you have to understand something,” he said. “I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do,” Obama recounted in the interview.
    read more:

    In response Nutty threw a huge tantrum and said the black President was being mean to him.

    • inbound39
      March 11, 2016, 2:12 pm

      Maybe Mummy Sara will rock Baby Nutty to sleep and give him his dummy to suck on.

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