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U.K. ambassador: Academic boycott of Israel 'not productive'

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U.K. ambassador: Academic boycott of Israel 'not productive'

Article Source: Haaretz, by Tamara Traubmann, 10/05/2006

Britain's ambassador to Israel, Simon McDonald, has said that his government did not believe that academic boycotts were productive and prefered academic cooperation.

He was responding to a report in Haaretz on Tuesday according to which academics in the United Kingdom were planning to back a far-reaching boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions that do not dissociate themselves from Israeli government policy in the territories.

"The British government fully supports academic freedom and appreciates the independence of NATFHE [the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education] and therefore cannot interfere in its decision," he said on Tuesday.

"However, we do not believe that such academic boycotts are productive - far more can be obtained through dialogue and academic cooperation."

The ambassador was reacting to the report that NATFHE's 67,000 members would discuss a motion later this month, at their annual meeting, to consider boycotting the lecturers and institutions in Israel that do not publicly dissociate themselves from the government's policy in the territories and from discrimination in education.

It is the first time that the union, which has traditionally defended human rights in different parts of the world, is proposing the sanction of an academic boycott.

Meanwhile Bar Ilan University has begun taking steps to avert the decision. BIU Rector Professor Yossi Yeshurun said that the university had informed some 500 people who had been active in a previous attempt at an academic boycott last year.

"We approached them and requested that they activate the academic institutions with which they are in touch, and that they also personally contact colleagues to help reject the boycott decision," he said. The group is known as the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, and its main objective is to prevent an academic boycott of Israel.

The boycott attempts started in 2002 when a number of European and American lecturers refused to come to Israel.

At the same time, some Israeli lecturers were refused participation in international conferences and their papers were barred from publication in academic journals abroad.

Lecturers from Britain, the U.S. and Israel have said in the past that there was a "silent boycott" in which organizations and institutions abroad were refraining from inviting Israelis or from accepting invitations to Israel, without stipulating publicly that the reasons for this were political.

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