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U.K. academics to back sweeping boycott of Israeli universities
9 May 2006by Tamara Traubman
The largest university and college lecturers union in Britain is likely to decide shortly to recommend that its 67,000 members boycott Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that do not publicly declare their opposition to Israeli policy in the territories.
The boycott motion, which was drafted by the southeast region of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), will be brought to a vote at its annual national conference, which will be held May 27-29. It comes about a year after the last boycott by British lecturers.
In April 2005, the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) decided to impose an academic boycott on Bar-Ilan and Haifa universities, but subsequently reversed the decision. The two lecturers organizations are slated to merge at the beginning of June.
Unlike the previous boycott, which targeted two specific institutions, the current motion relates to all lecturers and academic institutions in Israel. Now that the University of Haifa has threatened the AUT with a lawsuit, the NATFHE motion is more cautious: instead of recommending the lecturers union boycott Israeli institutions, it calls on the union to suggest its members carry out the boycott.
"The conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of the boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies," the NATFHE motion states. It also encourages lecturers to hold meetings on the issue on campus.
The motion explicitly says NATFHE will recognize Israeli policies, while at the same time denigrating them as "apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall and discriminatory educational practices."
Ronnie Fraser, a NATFHE member who heads an organization called Academic Friends of Israel, said he didn't think any decisions made at the annual conference would have an immediate effect on the policies of the merged lecturers association, but his group called on NATFHE not to discuss the boycott altogether.
"Academic work should not be blocked on political grounds," wrote Fraser in the name of the organization. Discrimination "on the grounds of nationality is pernicious," he said, calling academic discourse "crucial in keeping channels open to build opportunities for peace."
In addition to the boycott motion, the annual conference will also discuss a motion condemning the "outrageous bias" of the British government in opposing Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections and stating that NATFHE will "continue to help protect and support Palestinian colleges and universities in the face of the continual attack by Israel's government."
In the past decade, the only country whose academia NATFHE has considered boycotting is Israel.
Zvi Ziegler, a professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa who heads the Israeli Inter-Senate Committee of the Universities for the Protection of Academic Independence, said that if passed, the motion would provide justification for individuals to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
"The decision may not be binding, but it will be the union's recommendation to all its members," said Ziegler. "It provides legitimacy for people who want to boycott Israel."
Having learned their lesson last year, Israeli lecturers have already begun organizing meetings and conferences to speak out against academic boycotts.
The Inter-Senate Committee, which was established in 2001 with the original purpose of preventing a change in the structure of Israeli universities, had all Israeli universities pass resolutions condemning academic boycotts and calling on academic organizations abroad - including in Britain - to pass similar resolutions.
"We want to bring about a situation in which leading organizations say academic boycotts are improper," said Ziegler. "When they are faced with a leading academic body, organizations will hesitate to make a decision like this again."
The Inter-Senate Committee of the Israeli Universities for the defense of Academic Freedom
Prof Steinberg addresses the UK National Postgraduate Committee on the topic of Academic Freedom
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