|LONDON, May 30 (JTA) — A British
teachers union has decided to retract its ban on two Israeli
universities, but the boycott battle in British academia looks to be
far from over.
Both those calling for links to be severed with
Israeli institutions, and those hailing the Jewish state as a beacon of
academic freedom, are preparing to regroup and rearm for the next
There was widespread jubilation among pro-Israel activists May 26 when
the council of the 48,000-member Association of University Teachers
canceled the previous month’s motion blacklisting Haifa University for
allegedly persecuting anti-Zionist lecturer Ilan Pappe and Bar-Ilan
University for cooperating with a West Bank college.
policy sparked international condemnation and led to a backlash,
culminating in last week’s specially convened session that overturned
the boycott motion by a 2-1 vote.
The British government
welcomed the decision. Kim Howells, the Cabinet’s newly appointed
Middle East minister, said “the best way we can help achieve a peaceful
resolution in the region is to encourage both sides to take the steps
necessary for progress through close engagement. We do not believe that
sanctions and boycotts help toward that aim.”
Both sides of the debate claimed the decision as a victory.
“It’s fantastic to see the balance of reason” restored, said a
spokesman for the Campaign Group for Academic Freedom, a Jewish-led
organization formed to overturn the AUT’s boycott decision.
“We hope the unambiguous results” will put an end to “any further
misleading and destructive maneuvers, and allow British scholars to
build bridges and promote peace in the Middle East,” said Ronnie
Fraser, chair of the Academic Friends of Israel lobby group.
Palestinian campaigners say they expected to lose the AUT fight —
blaming intense lobbying and a “disinformation” campaign by a
well-organized opposition, backed by the Israeli government — but
believe it has put them on course to win the boycott war.
only were they given the opportunity to raise Palestinian “rights” at a
time when relative calm has taken the conflict out of international
headlines, but they also ensured that the idea of a boycott was placed
firmly on the agenda.
They hope to capitalize on their
comparison of Israel and apartheid South Africa through the aid of
South African institutions, including church councils and prominent
African National Council politicians.
“We gave notice,” said a
spokesman for the British University Committee for the Universities of
Palestine, a coordinating group for the boycott campaign. “This is not
some simple short-term battle to be decided by a vote at one meeting or
“People of conscience worldwide, in their families,
in their communities, in their trade unions will ensure that the
boycott movement will grow and continue until a just peace is secured.”
British Jewish leaders are concerned that this is far from an
empty threat. The boycott movement seems to have refined its methods
since its launch in an April 2002 letter to the left-wing Guardian
newspaper by professors Steven and Hilary Rose, who proposed a
moratorium on European support for Israeli academia.
petition was followed by sporadic individual efforts. But the movement
began to truly gather steam following the formation of the boycott
coordinating group last year and an international conference held at a
London college last December on strategies to resist “Israeli
Activists, whose sweeping boycott motion in 2003 was
overwhelmingly rejected by the AUT council, developed a more targeted
policy, taking advantage of pressures of time, attendance and internal
association politics to give their new motion the best chance of
Fraser, a lecturer in math at Barnet College in
London, sees the boycott movement as the culmination of a long process
that has seen left-wing British academia become increasingly hostile to
Others see it as a symptom of a wider anti-Jewish prejudice.
“What is it about certain areas of U.K. academia that finds every
opportunity to slam Israel?” asked a spokesman for the Campaign Group.
“To many in the community, this has all the hallmarks of anti-Semitism
because it seeks to delegitimize, demonize and judge Israel by double
Boycott supporters deny that anti-Semitism is a motive.
Outside of Britain, boycott opponents applauded the AUT’s move.
“This wasn’t a victory in the true sense where we’ve won the war; we’ve
just won the battle,” said Juda Engelmayer, chief communications
officer for the American Jewish Congress, which coordinated letters of
protest to the AUT from Congress and a group of Rhodes Scholars and
encouraged its members to do the same.
The Palestinian Union
of University Teachers and Employees has called for the resignation of
Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh, who condemned the AUT
boycott, for issuing a joint statement with Hebrew University President
Menachem Magidor supporting academic cooperation between Israelis and
Pro-Israel activists say the activity spawned by the AUT boycott has helped lay the groundwork for future battles.
Both Scholars for Peace and the Association for Jewish Studies, an
international association for professors of Jewish studies, issued
condemnations against the boycott and encouraged members to ask other
academic associations to protest the AUT boycott.
such as the American Association of University Professors, issued a
strong statement of condemnation. The group took particular note of the
boycott’s exemption for Israeli professors who object to their state’s
“colonial and racist policies,” saying that “deepens the injury to
academic freedom rather than mitigates it” because it “requires
compliance with a political or ideological test in order for an
academic relationship to continue.”
The American Federation of Teachers also called on the AUT to retract its decision.
Other North American groups were silent.
The National Education Association, for example, told Scholars for
Peace that it would not consider the issue, and gave no further
explanation, Beck said.
In Canada, the president of the
Canadian Association of University Teachers said the group would take
no action on the matter since the AUT was reconsidering its stance.
Scholars for Peace urged its roughly 650 members to write letters of
protest to the AUT. The group also worked with the Anti-Defamation
League to collect more than 450 names of university faculty from around
the world for a petition delivered to the AUT.
The group also
encouraged faculty to apply for affiliate faculty appointments at the
blacklisted Israeli universities. Some 400 faculty have applied for
affiliate appointments, Beck said.
“The thing that we learned
is that people were able to separate their feelings from the current
government of Israel, Israeli policy and the question of academic
freedom and scholarship, and they were able to land on the issue of the
academic boycott as a violation of academic freedom,” he said.
Some people, such as Jeff Weintraub, a social and political theorist at
the University of Pennsylvania, worked on their own to make a
Weintraub drafted an online petition to academic
associations endorsing the American Association of University
Professors’ statement and asking other academic associations to adopt
it. To date, he has garnered nearly 5,000 signatures.
On the whole, the British Jewish community was encouraged by the support it received for its anti-boycott efforts.
“We’ve seen a situation we haven’t seen for a long time, where Israeli
policy can be healthily debated in the U.K. without questioning
Israel’s right to exist,” said a spokesman for the Campaign Group for
JTA Staff Writer Rachel Pomerance in New York contributed to this story.