Since the “Don’t Go” initiative was launched in 2017, individual members of IARPP have withdrawn their membership from the organization in solidarity with the “Don’t Go” campaign. Subsequent to this, in a similar way, many speakers and panelists who were initially listed on the program for the 2018 New York IARPP international conference later withdrew from these presentations in solidarity; one entire panel listed on the 2018 IARPP brochure did not take place, for example, because all of the panelists withdrew.
As planning for the 2019 Tel Aviv IARPP international conference continued to move
forward without reconsideration of the location, there were further protests among
IARPP members who withdrew their membership in the organization and similar
decisions by a variety of persons to withdraw participation in the 2019 Tel Aviv conference.
Throughout this period, the IARPP leadership has persistently refused to acknowledge that there is discord and controversy within its own organization regarding the choice of Tel Aviv for its international conference. One such letter was written to IARPP on January 15th by the Israeli art therapist Elana Lakh. Dr. Lakh made a request of the IARPP membership chat room to post her letter. Consistent with its longstanding policy of silencing all discussion of the “Don’t Go” protest among its membership, the organization failed to respond to her request and did not post the letter. Dr. Lakh then gave us permission to upload her letter to the IARPP leadership on our website, which appears here:
Dear Steven Kuchuck, Tony Bass, Valerie Ghent, January 15, 2019
I am writing in response to the invitation to renew my membership in IARPP. I would like to inform you that I have decided not to renew my membership, because of the way the IARPP board dealt with the protest that took place in IARPP regarding the decision to hold the 2019 conference in Tel –Aviv. I found the events around IARPP’S treatment of the call to reconsider the place of the conference to be characteristic of oppressive systems, and in contradiction with the values of dialog, inclusiveness and acknowledgement, as well as understanding of political context and examination of power relations, which were the basis for my interest in the relational ideas.
The call to reconsider the decision to hold the 2019 conference in Tel Aviv, was initiated by Palestinian mental health professionals and supported by a large group of mental health professionals from around the world. This call asked for reopening the discussion about the location of the IARPP 2019 conference, explaining that under Israeli occupation, free and safe attendance of Palestinians and participants who voiced their criticism of the Israeli occupation would be compromised, and thus, engaging in inclusive participation and safe discussion would not be possible. It was an invitation for a true dialog, that takes into consideration both points of view- IARPP’s board, and the point of view represented in the letter. Unfortunately, this call was dismissed.
The call elicited a heated open debate on IARPP’s listserv, but the board chose to close it in a short notification, preventing IARPP members from participation in this debate, and silencing it. Later on, during the NY2018 conference, more silencing and intimidation attempts took place, trying to prevent discussion of the call, and of the conditions of Palestinian lives under the Israeli occupation. All through these events IARPP stated its willingness to engage in an open dialog. But, instead of acknowledging the complex and the painful reality that the call brought to the conscious awareness of IARPP’s members, and engaging in a true dialog about the ways to address this troubling material that was presented, the form of dialog that IARPP’s board chose to engage in seems to begin and end in the original decision about the location of the conference. I believe that true dialog needs to be based on willingness to listen to the other, and consider their position as legitimate and as equally valid. It also requires a kind of freedom and safety. That wasn’t the case here. Under these circumstances- invitation for a dialog, under the preconditions of the privileged part, and refusal to consider the call coming from Palestinians, is deceptive. As an Israeli who has been participating in dialog groups and projects with Palestinians for 20 years, I know that dialog can sometimes be used as a means of oppression, denying the Palestinians the basic freedom of voicing their resistance to the Israeli occupation. True dialog is based on acknowledgement of harm and taking responsibility, and cannot involve denial.
I find the way that the call for reconsideration was addressed to contradict basic statements about IARPP’s identity: “The spirit of relational psychoanalysis has led us to form our new association in as nonhierarchical and as open a way as possible. We are committed to doing away with privilege and discrimination in our field, whether due to prejudices concerning age, citizenship status, color, disability, marital or parental status, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. In these ways, we hope to encourage the formation of a space in which an open and democratic community of creative thinkers and practitioners can flourish.” (From IARPP’S website).
I still find the values and ideas of relational theory and practice valuable in therapeutic practice and thinking, but I choose not to renew my membership, and not continue to be part of IARPP as a protest against its refusal to discuss the call to reconsider, and it’s oppressive practices.