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UCU boycott of Israeli academics declared illegal

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British academics forgo boycott call

By Tamara Traubman, Haaretz, 29 September 2007
Source: Haaretz

Britain's University and College Union (UCU) announced on Friday that it is dropping its controversial plans to boycott Israeli universities, after it decided that the proposed boycott would be illegal and could not be implemented.

The UCU had been considering whether to halt funding, visits, conferences and joint publishing with Israeli institutions. In May, the union voted in favor of promoting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Additionally, the UCU's proposed boycott would have accused Israeli scholars of "cooperating in the occupation" of the Palestinian territories, which the motion said had denied education to Palestinians. The decision was extensively criticized by many, including former British prime minister Tony Blair, the heads of the leading British universities and numerous North American academics.

Since then, the UCU has sought extensive legal advice in order to try to implement congress policy while protecting the position of members and the union.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni welcomed the UCU's decision. "The suspension of the impending boycott is important news for Israeli academia. It supports the internationally held view that limiting freedom of speech in academia is inherently wrong," she said. It "proves that joint efforts can foil a cynical political move to undermine Israel's international legitimacy," she added.

Livni asked her British counterpart, David Miliband, about the issue at a meeting over the weekend. Livni also asked Miliband about a legal loophole that allows Israeli security officials to be tried in U.K. courts.

Ophir Frenkel, the executive director of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, a panel established by Bar-Ilan University to coordinate the campaign against the boycott, also praised the UCU's decision. "The UCU has finally understood that an academic boycott is not a legitimate measure of political protest," Frenkel said.

Israel's ambassador to Britain, Zvi Hefetz, said that he hopes the UCU's proposed boycott would be "the last such attempt with which we are forced to contend and act to nullify."

Hefetz said that over the past years, the embassy has halted similar initiatives by the architects and journalists associations. "I hope the cancellation of this boycott will serve as a signal to other organizations and help put a stop to these efforts."

However, the UCU is still examining other sanctions against Israeli academic institutions. These may include a suspension of joint Israel-British research projects.

Boycott could violate U.K. law

The legal advice the UCU received indicates that calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions would run a serious risk of violating U.K. anti-discrimination legislation. The proposed boycott is also considered to be outside the aims and objects of the UCU. A campus tour to discuss the boycott was also suspended, based on the legal advice.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said, "While UCU is at liberty to debate the pros and cons of Israeli policies, it cannot spend members' resources on seeking to test opinion on something which is in itself unlawful and cannot be implemented."

In 2003, a proposal for British universities to sever all ties with Israeli academic institutions was defeated, but two years later Britain's Association of University Teachers - the UCU's predecessor - voted to boycott Israel's Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities. That decision was overturned only a month later, under fierce international pressure.

Barak Ravid contributed to this article.

Reproduced at Zionism On The Web for educational purposes only, please site the initial source as listed above

Related items:

Press Releases

AFI Digest of March 28th

National Postgraduate Committee (NPC)
National Union of Students (NUS)
Jewish Agency (JAFI)
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Statement from The Russell Group on UCU motion on Israeli boycott
Statement from the LSE on UCU's motion in support of an Israel boycott
Columbia University response to boycotts of Israeli universites
Board of Deputies Response to UCU academic Boycotts
American Jewish Congress response to UCU boycott
American Physiological Society Response to the British academic boycott of Israel (includes feedback on this)
National Postgraduate Committee and the Academic Boycotts (14/8/07)
University and College Union (UCU) Press Release, Boycott illegal, 28th Sept 2007
Academic Friends of Israel Press Release, 29 September 2007

News Reports

Union committee to reconsider Israeli academics boycott, The Education Guardian, March 27, 2008
UK group proposes boycott of Israeli academia, Jerusalem Post, March 30, 2008

A slippery slope to totalitarianism, Education Guardian, May 24, 2007
Physicist who refused to lecture in U.K.: I'm not calling for boycott, Haaretz, May 25, 2007
Livni [Israeli FM] meets with British ambassador over U.K. boycotts, Haaretz, May 29, 2007
Memo From London: Should British Academics, or Rock Bands, Boycott Israel? New York Times, May 30, 2007
Lecturers back boycott of Israel, Education Guardian, May 30, 2007
Academics express outrage at Israeli boycott, Education Guardian, May 31, 2007
Divide and Rule, Education Guardian, June 5, 2007
Boycott should outrage academics, Inside Higher Ed, June 5 2007
Ignored by the Brits, Ynet, June 6, 2006
Boycott will destroy British academia, The Guardian, Saturday June 9, 2007
We Will Isolate Them, The Guardian, June 9, 2007 + ZOTW Commentry June 10, 2007
Government to form joint task force to counter U.K. boycotts, Haaretz, June 8, 2007
UK proposes joint academic seminar, Ynet News, June 10, 2007
US Unions condemn boycotts, The Jewish Chronicle, August 17 2007
Boycott a blessing in disguise, YNet News, Opinion, June 1 2007
FM praises British academics for nixing planned boycott of Israel, Haaretz, 30/09/2007
British academics forgo boycott call, Haaretz, 29/09/2007
Lecturers drop Israeli universities boycott call after legal advice, The Guardian, 29/09/2007

Responces, Blogs, Newsletters

UCU Reconsidering Boycott, Little Bulldogs, March 27 2008

UJS Chair's letter to UCU General Secretary
Lancaster University Students' Union Policy in repsonse
Academic Friends of Israel Digest vol 6 no 10 One week on
Academic Friends of Israel Digest vol 6 no 12
Goldhirsh Foundation Response
Responding to the Boycott by Shalom Lappin, at normblog, June 3 2007
Dark Days for the British Academy a letter by Prof Daniel Statman
A letter to UCU from Guy Handelman
SPME Petition against the boycott
Response from prominent British figures and law-makers, in Guardian Letters page, June 12, 2007

Other relevent documents and sources

The 2007 UCU motions
The 2007 document to be sent to branches
An explanation about the Durban Stratagy
Key quotes and summary of responses to the UCU policy
Why a cultural boycott of Israel would be banal, gestural and morally compromised
Relevent section of the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism
More background on anti-Israel boycotts in general

Other sites related to the boycott

UJS's UCU Academic Boycott
BICOM on the UCU Boycotts
Academic Friends of Israel
Jewish Agency page on Addressing the Academic Boycott of Israel at UCU