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Lecturers back boycott of Israel

By James Meikle, Education correspondent
Wednesday May 30, 2007

Source: EducationGuardian.co.uk

University lecturers today threatened to provoke international condemnation over academic freedom by forcing their union into a year-long debate over boycotting work with Israeli universities.

Delegates at the first conference of the new University and College Union in Bournemouth voted by more than three to two to recommend boycotts in protest at Israel's "40-year occupation" of Palestinian land and to condemn the "complicity" of Israeli academics.

The conference motion said there should be "a comprehensive and consistent boycott" of all Israeli academic institutions, as called for by Palestinian trade unions.

Delegates voted by 158 to 99 in favour of the motion. The union's leadership must now circulate calls from Palestinians for a boycott of Israeli universities to all branches throughout the country.

Tom Hickey, a Brighton University academic and union national executive member, who led the call for stronger moves towards a boycott, said: "There will be adverse effects on individuals, but this is not targeting individuals or trying to break contacts with them."

He said the vote in favour of a boycott call to all branches reflected "the deep concern" people have about the issue. A boycott could involve lecturers refusing to collaborate on research contracts with Israeli academics and refusing to work with journals published by Israeli companies.

However, Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the union, said: "I do not believe a boycott is supported by a majority of (the 120,000) UCU members; nor do I believe that members see it as a priority for the union."

Ofir Frankel, a spokesman for the Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, said: "This was a disappointment. We see it as discriminatory and counterproductive. It will make British academia look a little less serious." He added that it would also damage existing links between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs.

The decision was greeted with outrage among Jewish groups and activists. Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: "The UCU boycott motion is an assault on academic freedom. While the vast majority of academics do not support a boycott, this decision damages the credibility of British academia as a whole."

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "Now is the time to strengthen the kinds of relationships that will bring all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict together and, in this country, create a better understanding of the complex issues through that engagement. We call upon the Union's leadership and all members who are rightly outraged by the decision to work towards a reversal of this policy."

Mitch Simmons, campaigns director for the Union of Jewish Students, said: "Academic freedom is part of the fabric of modern society. The exchange of information and the advancement of human knowledge should have no borders. Disappointingly, it seems that no value can be left unviolated by the proposers of this motion."

During the debate, which lasted well over an hour, Michael Cushman, from the London School of Economics, said: "Universities are to Israel what the springboks were to South Africa: the symbol of their national identity."

Israel wanted to claim it was a normal democratic state and universities were integral to that, Mr Cushman said. "[But] it is not a normal state. They are not normal universities.

"Senior academics move from universities into ministries and back again," he said.

"Regularly, lecturers take up their commissions in the Israeli Defence Force as reserve officers to go into the West Bank to dominate, control and shoot the population."

But Mary Davis, from London Metropolitan University, said there were "many, many academics ... who oppose Israeli government policy tooth and nail ... This notion that Israeli academia is the Springbok of Israel is just plain wrong and foolish."


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


Related items:

Press Releases

2008
AFI Digest of March 28th

2007
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

2008
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

2007
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

2008
UCU Reconsidering Boycott, Little Bulldogs, March 27 2008

2007
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
www.stoptheboycott.org
BICOM on the UCU Boycotts
Academic Friends of Israel
Engage
Jewish Agency page on Addressing the Academic Boycott of Israel at UCU