Lecturers may boycott Israeli academics
State's policy in occupied territories fuels union debate
Polly Curtis and Will Woodward
Tuesday April 5, 2005
Israeli academics who refuse to condemn their government's actions in
the occupied territories risk a boycott by the UK's leading lecturers'
The Association of University Teachers' annual council, which begins on
April 20 in Eastbourne, will also debate whether to boycott three of
Israel's eight universities - Haifa University, Bar Ilan University and
the Hebrew University in Jerusalem - over their alleged complicity with
the government's policies on the Palestinian territories.
The union voted against an academic boycott policy two years ago, but
campaigners believe the motions are more likely to be passed this year.
The new boycott motion contains a clause to exclude "conscientious
Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial
and racist policies".
Palestinian academics have also issued a call for an international
boycott of Israel.
Sue Blackwell, a lecturer at Birmingham University and one of the
authors of the motion, said: "We are now better organised. One of the
reasons we didn't win last time was that there was no clear public call
from Palestinians for the boycott. Now we have that, in writing."
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
called for a boycott last year. It was signed by 60 academic trade
unions, non-governmental organisations and associations in the West Bank
and Gaza. A separate poll of staff at al-Quds University, seen by
Education Guardian, reveals that 75% support the boycott.
Gargi Bhattacharyya, executive member and president-elect of the AUT,
said: "I will be supporting the call for the boycott. Things aren't
getting better there for our [Palestinian] academic colleagues, they are
saying the internationally emotional pressure is an important and a
peaceful way for us to support them.
"I think within the sector there is a lot of concern about what's
happening in Palestine and a huge concern that the Palestinian education
structure has been destroyed. Potentially there's a lot of support."
The union's executive has yet to decide how to respond to the motions.
But it has tabled its own motion which "recognises that the peaceful
resolution of the problems facing the Middle East will not be brought
about by the erection of barriers, but by open dialogue".
Today, Education Guardian also reveals new evidence that British
academics are turning down offers to work with big research
organisations in Israel, citing their objection to the Israeli
In the past year, the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF), Israel's biggest
science research funding body, has received a dozen refusals from
British academics to review grant applications.
One, received last month from an unnamed British academic, said: "I
support the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions, as a
means of registering my protest against Israelis' lack of respect for
human rights and continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian land."
Tamar Jaffe-Mittwoch, the director of the ISF, said the refusals had
come as a shock. "The shock is that the academic world is being
contaminated with politics. We feel academia is something that should be
The Hebrew University denied claims in the AUT motion that it had
confiscated land from Palestinian families.
Professor Nachman Ben-Yehuda, its dean of social sciences, said the
boycott would be "damaging" for the university.
"There would be severance of all relationships, and there is lots of
crossover from the UK to here. It would be enormous," he said.
"I think it's right to criticise a country or university if it does
something wrong, I think we should be criticised for things we shouldn't
be doing. But to say we won't talk any more goes against something very,
"We solve problems through dialogue."
Haifa University also denied the allegation that it was restricting the
academic freedom of researchers whose theses were critical of Israel.
The university told Education Guardian it was "unequivocally supportive
of the rights of academic freedom".
British universities will have to decide on their legal position should
the boycott become widespread. No academic or institution has been
charged with breaking anti-discriminatory laws for refusing to work with
In autumn 2003, Oxford University suspended Andrew Wilkie, a professor
of pathology, for two months after he refused to accept an application
from an Israeli student for a PhD because he had a "huge problem" with
Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
Mona Baker caused an international row in 2002 when she sacked two
Israeli academics from the board of a translation journal she edited,
citing the boycott.
She was cleared of breaking any rules in an internal inquiry by her
employer, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and
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