Lecturers drop Israeli universities boycott call after legal advice
By James Meikle, The Guardian, 29 September 2007
Source: The Guardian
The prospect of an academic boycott of Israeli universities receded sharply yesterday as leaders of the lecturers' union contemplating the move were told it would be illegal. The British University and College Union (UCU) immediately suspended regional meetings called to discuss the "moral implications" of existing links and hear from Palestinian trade unionists living under Israeli occupation who had called for the protest.
In May, delegates at the union's annual congress in Bournemouth provoked an international storm, especially in Israel and the US, by demanding a programme of meetings to pave the way for a vote on cutting academic ties. The move was approved by 158 votes to 99. Jewish leaders, university vice-chancellors and the government condemned the move.
Yesterday David Newman, head of geopolitics at Ben-Gurion University, and academic representative of Israel on boycott issues, said he was glad the UCU had "seen sense and realised that universities are the place for open dialogue, freedom of speech and liberal thought, all of which a boycott would have prevented".
Legal advice to the union's strategy and finance committee said a boycott call ran the risk of infringing discrimination legislation and was also considered outside the aims and objects of the union.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, insisted the majority of the union's 120,000 members would neither support a boycott call nor regard it as a priority. She said last night: "I hope this decision will allow all to move forwards and focus on what is our primary objective, the representation of our members."
However, Sue Blackwell, a member of the union's executive and of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, said of the decision: "It is quite ridiculous. It is cowardice. It is outrageous and an attack on academic freedom."
Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, who had flown to Israel to soothe tensions, said: "An academic boycott would not have done anything to further the Middle East peace process, in fact the reverse."
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