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UK 'regrets' NATFHE boycott decision

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UK 'regrets' NATFHE boycott decision

Source: Jerusalem Post

By Talya Halkin, 28/5/06, Updated 30/5/06

A motion to boycott Israeli academics, which was approved on Monday by a vote of members of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, Britain's largest academic trade union, has provoked a wave of condemnations from Israeli and British officials and from senior academics and universities in Israel and abroad.

"Around the world this proposal has been rejected as an act of blatant discrimination," said Israel's Ambassador to the UK, Zvi Hefetz. "As a means of promoting dialogue and coexistence in the Middle East, an academic boycott of Israel is counterproductive in the extreme."

Following the vote, the union's official statement declared that "[The] Conference notes [the] continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including [the] construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices.

The call to consider a boycott of Israeli academics was passed with 106 votes in favor, 71 votes against and 21 abstentions.

"By pursuing such a policy, NATFHE will isolate its members and their students rather than isolating Israeli academics, who are [in] the forefront of international cooperation on academic study and research, including with Palestinian universities and institutions elsewhere in the Arab world," Hefetz added.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Lord Triesman also expressed regret at the boycott vote. "We believe that such academic boycotts are counterproductive and retrograde. Far more can be obtained through dialogue and academic cooperation," he said.

The boycott motion approved by NATFHE will only be effective for three days due to a merger between NATFHE and the Association of University Teachers, a smaller union, which is scheduled to take place on June 1. NATFHE has indicated that the new body will not be bound by the decision.

Last year the AUT voted to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities, charging them with complicity in Israel's "suppression of the Palestinians." The council of the association reversed the decision after objections by leading scholars and academic organizations.

Following NATFHE's vote on Monday, University of Haifa President Aaron Ben-Ze'ev said the university strongly condemned the boycott decision.

"Any attempt to connect politics and academic research is pure McCarthyism," Ben-Ze'ev said. "The university will continue working in collaboration with its colleagues in Israel, Britain and elsewhere, in order to protect the principle of academic freedom," he said.

Professor Gerald Steinberg, director of the Interdisciplinary Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation and a member of the IAB executive committee, added that "Such political actions ... destroy the academic process, since we will no longer be able to trust the objectivity and professional detachment of academics who are involved in 'silent boycotts,' the journals they edit, and the peer review processes in which they participate."

"None of the developments in our region interest these people behind the boycott," said Professor Wistrich, an expert on anti-Semitism at Hebrew University. "This is a real obsession."

Education Minister Yuli Tamir also expressed strong criticism of the boycott motion, as did Zevulun Orlev, chair of the Knesset's Science and Technology Committee.

The Academic Friends of Israel in Britain also released a statement condemning the boycott.

"This only brings dishonor and sheer ridicule upon NATFHE which can be rightly called and remembered as a racist and discriminatory union," the statement said. The organization said it would continue its policy of exposing academics who boycott Israeli institutions and academics, and added that it believed anyone who pursues such an action is guilty of breaking discrimination and equal opportunities laws as well as university rules and their own contracts of employment.

"There are countless Palestinian and Arab collaborations with Israel in agriculture, medicine, science and many other fields, as well as burgeoning links between academics in this country and Israel," said Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic Friends of Israel. "If the sponsors of this boycotting campaign succeeded in something, it is only to undermine further progress, collaboration and peace in the Middle East and to marginalize the standing of NATFHE, its successor union, the UCU and British academia."

The International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) at Bar-Ilan University also expressed its deep dissatisfaction with the boycott decision.

IAB Chairman Yosef Yeshurun, provost of Bar-Ilan University, added that while pro-boycott activists were a marginal group, the majority of union members were not necessarily aware of the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the range of political opinions on Israeli campuses, and could be personally influenced by the boycott decision in the long-term. While senior Israeli scientists would not be hurt by such decisions, he said, the results could be detrimental to young scholars.

Yeshurun also said that the IAB would budget funds for collaboration with English academics in order to encourage scientists to work against the boycott.

Our links relevent to this article

AUT: Press Release: AUT does not endorse this policy
AJ6: Press Release: The Association of Jewish Sixthformers “dismayed” by NATFHE boycott
SPME Press Release: SPME Strongly Condemns the Boycott / Blacklist of Israeli Scholars 29/5/06
ADL Press Release: ADL Slams British Academic Boycott Policy 29/5/06
Spare us the analogies, Brian Klug, 30/5/06
INN: Sharp Reactions to UK Teacher Vote to Boycott Israel Academia 29/5/06
BLOG: Normblog - Vote of shame
Ynet: Britain slams Israel academic boycott 29/5/06
Ynet: UK educators shun Israeli academics 29/5/06
AP: British academics' union votes to boycott Israeli academics 29/5/06
BLOG: Adloyada - Surprise, surprise: NATFHE passes boycott motion
The Inter-Senate Committee of the Israeli Universities for the defense of Academic Freedom
Prof Steinberg addresses the UK National Postgraduate Committee on the topic of Academic Freedom
A boycott is already on
Israel boycott resurfaces in NATFHE - AWL
NATFHE: Chuck out 198C! - Jon Pike (Engage)
Academic Friends of Israel situation update from 25/5/06
The Peace Vigil Page, the protest against the AUT boycott
Al-Quds University - Hebrew University. Cooperation Agreement
Principles of Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation
National Postgraduate Committee Says: Don't take Academia Hostage

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