British Boycott of Israeli Educators

The Guardian is reporting that the vote regarding the academic boycott we wrote about last week has been successful. There are a number of different issues at work here that are of concern.

One of them is the attempt by the organizers of the vote to railroad this through by the timing of it so close to the Passover holiday, tied into that is the lack of debate on the topic and the third is the question of free speech.

Here is a short excerpt from the story.

“The Association of University Teachers today voted to boycott two Israeli universities over their failure to speak out against their government.

Delegates at a conference in Eastbourne voted, against the wishes of the executive, for an immediate boycott of Haifa University, which they accuse of restricting the academic freedom of staff members who are critical of the government, and of Bar Ilans University, which has a college in the disputed settlement Ariel.

The boycott, which is now official union policy, will follow a plan prescribed by a group of 60 Palestinian academic and cultural bodies and non-governmental organisations, which calls for British academics to severe links with Israeli institutions but to exempt Israelis who speak out against their government’s policies towards the Palestinians.

The executive had asked delegates to defer the debate until the facts of the cases included in three motions were confirmed. A third boycott, against the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was dropped as delegates queried the evidence of accusations it had evicted Palestinian families to build dormitories.

There were cheers as the motions were passed. Shereen Benjamin, from Birmingham University, one of the authors of the motions, told EducationGuardian: “It is a much better result than we’d dared to hope for. What it does is put the issue on the agenda at a higher profile than it’s ever been.

“As an educator I applaud that people are discussing this … We think the boycott of Haifa will send a clear message about academic freedom in Israel.”

At the end of the vote, delegates angrily demanded to be able to voice their opposition to the new policy and to the cutting short of the debate, due to lack of time, so that no opposition other than from the executive was heard.

Alastair Hunter, a delegate from Glasgow, speaking from the back of the Winter Gardens conference hall, where the debate took place, called the motions “divisive”. He said: “I am disgusted we were not given a chance to debate fully.”

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