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UCU boycott of Israeli academics declared illegal

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FM praises British academics for nixing planned boycott of Israel

By Tamara Traubman, Barak Ravid and Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz 30 September 2007
Source: Haaretz

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni last week welcomed the decision of Britain's University and College Union to drop its controversial plan to boycott Israeli universities. The union decided Friday that the proposed boycott would be illegal and could not be implemented.

Livni said Friday that "the suspension of the impending boycott is important news for the Israeli academia. It supports the internationally held view that limiting the freedom of speech in academia is inherently wrong."

She also said that it "proves that joint efforts can foil a cynical political move to undermine Israel's international legitimacy."

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

The UCU had been considering whether to halt funding, visits, conferences and joint publishing with Israeli institutions.

In May, the union voted to promote a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, accusing 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 the former British prime minister Tony Blair, the heads of the leading universities in the U.K. and numerous North American academics.

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

The legal advice makes it clear that making a call to boycott 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 following the legal advice.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said that "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."

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