Science in Context

Research Article

The Kishon Affair: Science, Law, and the Politics of Causation

Tal Golana1

a1 University of California, San Diego


This article describes how science and law were called upon (and failed) to resolve a controversy that created a painful rift between the Israeli State and some of its elite soldiers. The controversy, which came to be known as “the Kishon affair,” erupted in 2000, when veterans of an elite and secretive unit in the Israeli navy claimed that pollution in the Kishon River where they had trained and dived during their military service had been the cause of a rash of cancers. The veterans demanded that the Ministry of Defense take responsibility for their illnesses, finance their medical treatment, and support their families if they die. The military denied the causal connection between the polluted river and the veterans’ cancers and rejected their demands. The dispute quickly escalated into a bitter public controversy, and a high-rank commission comprised of one of Israel's top jurists and two prominent scientists was called upon to study the disputed causal relation and reveal its true nature. However, after nearly three years of intense inquiry the jurist and the scientists reached opposing conclusions: the jurist found a causal connection while the scientists rejected it.