British Scholars' Union Endorses Boycott Of Israel Decision May Cut Contact With Academic Institutions
By Alan Cowell , New York Times News Service Published on 5/31/2007
London - The main union representing 120,000 British college teachers voted Wednesday to endorse a Palestinian trades' union call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
The boycott resolution, approved at the inaugural congress of the University and College Union, called on British college lecturers to "consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions."
In theory, a boycott could sever academic contacts and exchanges of personnel between British and Israeli academic institutions.
The union leaders insisted, though, that rules endorsed in a separate resolution earlier on Wednesday would forestall immediate moves toward any action of that kind.
The pro-boycott ballot, on a count of about 158-99, according to boycott opponents present at the voting, was the first since the merger of two leading associations of higher-education teachers last year.
Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, said in a statement after the vote: "As I have made clear in the past, and as I reiterated on the floor of congress this morning, I do not believe a boycott is supported by the majority of UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it is a priority for the union."
The ballot nonetheless drew sharp protests from an assembly of British Jewish groups and Israeli groups that had banded together to oppose a boycott.
The coalition said in a statement that the vote represented "an attack on academic exchange which undermines the values of equality and freedom, which ought to be fundamental to all British academic institutions."
The resolution condemned what it called "the complicity of Israeli academia" in the occupation of Palestinian lands and said "passivity or neutrality is unacceptable, and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-Semitic."
On the same day as the resolution was approved, however, the presidents of four Israeli universities - Ben-Gurion University, Hebrew University, Haifa University and the Technion - joined others to urge the Israeli defense establishment to end a ban that prevents Palestinian students from traveling from Gaza to the West Bank to study. Their announcement made reference to the consideration of a boycott by the British union.
Both of the higher-education teaching unions that joined to form the union had voted in favor of different forms of boycotts in 2005 and 2006. But the 2005 decision was reversed after a huge outcry. The 2006 ballot lapsed with the formation of the new, merged body.
Source: The Day