Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Movement for Academic Boycott of Israel Alive, Well-And Growing

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Movement for Academic Boycott of Israel Alive, Well-And Growing

Article excerpt

For those in Britain and around the world following the various attempts to pressurize Israel through boycotts and sanctions, recent months have offered signs that an academic boycott, though currently on the backburner, remains a "live" issue-and may well score more successes in the near future.

A quick recap takes us back to April 2005, when the UK's Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted in favor of a boycott of two specific Israeli universities, in a decision that provoked a storm of debate, and eventually led to the motion being overturned the following month. Despite this apparent defeat, the pro-boycott union members had succeeded in thrusting the issue into the public arena, and for many it felt like the genie now was well and truly out of the bottle.

In the aftermath of the AUT vote, anti-boycott groups like the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom and Engage were formed to counteract the new momentum. The latter, typical of the anti-boycott movement, sought to claim that "the choice to boycott Israeli Jews rather than anyone else in the world is effectively anti-Semitic...even if those arguing for a boycott do not feel that they are antisemities [sic], do not feel a hatred of Jews, or do not intend to be anti-Semitic."

Fast forward to early summer 2006, and it was the turn of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe) to make the headlines, as their national conference passed a motion urging its members to consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that do not "publicly dissociate themselves" from "apartheid policies." The impact of such a development was diminished, however, when, after a matter of days, Natfhe merged with the AUT to form the new University and College Union (UCU), a move that reduced former policies to non-binding status.

Once again, the issue disappeared from sight-until mid-September, when an open letter was published in the Irish Times. The missive was signed by 61 academics, who united in calling for "a moratorium" on "support for Israeli academic institutions, at both national and European levels"-in practice, requiring sympathetic colleagues to refrain "where possible, from further joint collaborations with Israeli academic institutions." Such a step was deemed necessary in light of Israel's "violent repression" of the Palestinians and "aggression" against Lebanon, and the academics specifically referred to previous Palestinian urgings "to take practical action to pressure Israel to comply with international law and basic human rights norms." The letter stated that such a policy would "continue until Israel abides by U.N. resolutions and ends the occupation of Palestinian territories." The story did not make too many ripples, coverage being largely restricted to the UK Jewish press, Israeli papers like The Jerusalem Post, and activist Web sites, but it emerged as part of a broader picture that had Israel worried.

The pro-boycott genie now was well and truly out of the bottle.

There obviously was enough of a threat to prompt Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir to discuss the specific issue of an academic boycott with her British counterpart, Alan Johnson, in London early in October, the first time such a high-profile political meeting was convened to deal with the boycott. …

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