By Bernard Josephs
MEMBERS OF Britain’s biggest university lecturers’ union are to consider a campaign for an academic boycott of Israel at its annual meeting later this month.
The proposals, to be made at the Association of University Teachers’ conference, were criticised by pro-Israel academics.
The Board of Deputies described them as “irresponsible and blinkered.” A campaign to defeat the move was being planned by the Academic Friends of Israel, whose chair, Ronnie Fraser, said it represented a “backward step.”
Among a series of motions at the conference on April 20 will be a call, jointly backed by AUT members at Birmingham University and the Open University, to cut contacts with Israeli academics who do not condemn their country’s actions on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
The motion calls for the distribution among the union’s 40,000 members of a statement by Palestinian universities and non-governmental organisations demanding that academics refrain from “co-operation, collaboration or joint projects” with Israeli institutions.
AUT members will also be asked to end links with three major Israeli universities — the Hebrew University, Haifa University and Bar Ilan University — for allegedly having complied with Israel’s policies on the West Bank and in Gaza.
The Hebrew University, the motion alleged, had confiscated land from a Palestinian family; and Haifa University was accused of infringing the academic freedom of staff critical of Israel’s policies. Both universities strongly denied the allegations.
The proposed boycott of Bar Ilan was, according to the motion, because the university supervised degree programmes at the college of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
The attempt to impose a boycott follows a similar move at the 2003 AUT conference, which was heavily defeated. Supporters now hope that by exempting Israeli academics who are critical of Israeli policies the motion will pass.
There was support from the union’s president-elect, Gargu [sic] Bhattacharyya, who told the JC she saw a boycott as “a peaceful way to oppose the occupation of Palestinian land.” There was deep concern in the union that Palestinian educational institutions were being “destroyed.”
However in an apparent attempt to cool the atmosphere, the AUT's executive proposed a motion stressing that peace in the Middle East would not be brought about by “the erection of barriers but by open dialogue.” It also called for contact with the higher education unions.
A Board of Deputies spokesman expressed concern that sections of the AUT would consider boycotting Israel “while no concurrent condemnation has been made of incitement to violence and anti-Semitism in Palestinian schools, colleges and universities.”
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