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May 30, 2006

British Teachers Blasted for Voting to Boycott Israel

The British National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) voted on Monday at its annual conference to consider boycotting Israeli academics who do not dissociate themselves from what it called Israel's "apartheid policies":

198C ACADEMIC RESPONSIBILITY

Conference notes continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices. It recalls its motion of solidarity last year for the AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility.

Conference instructs the NEC to facilitate meetings in each university and college, and to circulate information to Branches, offering to fund the speakers' travel costs.

Conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.

The British Association of University Teachers (AUT), which is slated to merge with NATFHE tomorrow and which last year overturned its own hastily-passed boycott, sharply rejected the NATFHE vote:

At its recent annual conference NATFHE passed a motion inviting their members to consider boycotting Israeli academics under certain circumstances.

AUT does not endorse this policy and is strongly advising its members not to implement it. ...

On 1 June AUT and NATFHE join to form the University and College Union (UCU). The NATFHE motion is not binding on the UCU. The AUT will argue for the UCU to adopt the report of its commission. It will not support or cooperate in any way with any attempts to implement the NATFHE motion in advance of the first UCU annual national congress in June 2007.

In addition to the AUT, academics from around the world blasted the NATFHE motion. A letter signed by hundreds of academics that was published in the Guardian on May 27 stated that

... this boycott proposal would do more harm than good, if the aim is to bolster the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements.

The political test for Israeli academics builds on a tradition established by McCarthy in the US and the antisemitic purges in communist eastern Europe. We oppose forcing academics to sign a statement to demonstrate political cleanliness. Unions should have consistent policy with regard to human rights abuses and the curtailment of academic freedom that goes with them. We oppose the inconsistency of blacklisting Israelis, but adopting a different attitude to academics in the US, China, Russia, Britain, Sudan, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Egypt - or in the long list of other states that are responsible for equal or worse human rights abuses.

Israeli universities are among the most open and anti-racist spaces in Israel. They have large numbers of Arab students and teachers.

And a letter in the Financial Times, this one signed by President Emeriti of prominent American universities, noted:

The proposed boycott would violate fundamental academic norms, undermine efforts to promote scholarly co-operation between Arabs and Jews, and perpetuate flagrant distortions about the nature of Israeli government and society.

We find it odd that Israel, a democracy with a vigorous exchange of ideas on all topics including policies toward the Palestinians, has been singled out for a boycott, rather than the many authoritarian nations that ruthlessly suppress academic and political discourse. Open exchange, collaboration, co-operation and free debate are the hallmarks of academic life. To isolate and sever ties with a community of scholars based on their national or religious identity, ostensibly as a protest against their government's policies, is a serious breach of academic norms.

Posted by RH at May 30, 2006 03:39 PM

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