British College Union to Boycott Israeli Academics

Britain's largest college teachers' union has voted to consider a boycott of Israeli academia over what it calls Israel's "apartheid" policies and discrimination against Palestinians. One part of the union motion called on members to consider refusing to cooperate with Israeli academics or Israeli research journals that do not disassociate themselves from Israeli policies.

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Britain's largest union of college teachers has passed a resolution calling for a boycott of some Israeli academics and universities. The union wants to punish scholars and schools that do not renounce Israeli government policies toward the Palestinians. The vote has been condemned by supporters of Israel and even some of the union's leadership.

NPR's Rob Gifford has the story from London.

ROB GIFFORD reporting:

Despite a strong plea from the union's general secretary to vote it down, delegates of the annual conference of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, known as NATFHE, passed the motion yesterday. The resolution was passed by 106 votes to 71, but described as advisory, not mandatory.

The text mentioned, “The continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall and discriminatory educational practices.” It urged members not to cooperate with Israeli academics and journals that do not dissociate themselves from those policies. Tom Hickey, a lecturer in philosophy at Brighton University, supports the resolution.

Mr. TOM HICKEY (Brighton University): Well, the point is to draw attention to the appalling, dehumanizing treatment of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories, the systematic brutality that's been practiced there by the Israeli Defense Force, and to draw the attention of colleagues in our union and colleagues elsewhere to the fact that there is a moral issue. If it's the case that Israeli institutions, academic institutions, educational institutions and scholars in Israel, are not speaking out against this, they make themselves complicit in it.

GIFFORD: Some of the supporters of the move had admitted that a boycott would infringe academic freedom, but have said that can be justified if the exercise of that freedom infringes the rights of others, as they say is the case with Israel and the Palestinians.

The move has provoked angry reaction, not just from Israeli academics, but also from supporters of Israel in the U.K., who say the move further undermines efforts to promote collaboration and peace in the Middle East. Ronnie Fraser a member of the group Academic Friends of Israel, responded to Tom Hickey's comments.

Mr. RONNIE FRASER (Academic Friends of Israel): Any boycotts of Israeli universities will be self-defeating. It won't help the Palestinians. Tom, I believe, is not aware of the great deal of cooperation that exists, both on the ground, joint projects between Israelis and Palestinians at university level, and Israelis' universities and British Universities. One-third of British universities - that's 30 of our 100 universities - have projects, joint projects between Israeli and U.K. academics.

GIFFORD: Last year a smaller union, the Association of University Teachers, or AUT, called for boycotts against several Israeli universities, saying they'd been complicit in what it called the Israeli government's abuse of Palestinians. That motion was eventually withdrawn in the face of opposition from within the union and from the U.K. government. The long-term impact of yesterday's resolution is unclear, since NATFHE and the AUT are due to merge into one single union later this week.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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