State Department denies canceling NASA scientist’s Israel trip over Israel protests

Biden administration pushes back on report claiming that NASA cancelled scientists trip to Israel over anti-judicial reform protests.

By Andrew Bernard, The Algemeiner

The US State Department has denied canceling a NASA astrophysicist’s trip to Israel for a physics conference on Monday due to unrest in the wake of Israel’s judicial reform.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Thursday reported that NASA scientist Dr. Amber Straughn had canceled a scheduled appearance at the Israel Physical Society’s annual conference due to instructions from the State Department, a claim that the State Department denies.

“The State Department did not order the cancellation of the trip,” a State Department spokesperson told The Algemeiner.

Straughn is an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and serves as the Deputy Project Scientist for James Webb Space Telescope Science Communications. The James Webb Space Telescope was launched in 2021 as a successor to the Hubble Telescope and is the largest optical telescope in space.

In a now-deleted tweet, Straughn wrote that her travel authorization had been “revoked” on 27 March without specifying who had revoked it. Asked by a twitter user if it was “because of all the unrest and protests going on there,” Straughn replied, “Yes.”

Prof. Jonathan Ruhman, a physicist at Bar-Ilan University and the organizer of the conference, said in an email to The Algemeiner that Straughn had blamed the State Department for the cancellation in her communications with him.

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“Her exact words were that the State Department revoked her travel permit. She did not provide an explanation,” he said. “We were really sad she had to cancel.”

Straughn and NASA did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

While the State Department restricts travel by US government employees within certain areas of Israel, including the West Bank and in some border areas, the Expo Tel Aviv convention center where the conference is being held is not in one of those areas.

Official visits between Israel and the United States have been a sore spot in the ongoing diplomatic spat between the two countries. No US officials met with Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich during his trip to Washington, DC, in March.

Following that trip, Israeli media reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed his ministers not to visit Washington until he has received an invitation to the White House. On Wednesday, President Biden said that he does not intend to extend such an invitation to Netanyahu “in the near term.”