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The anti-Israel Academic Boycott Resource Pages:
AUT, NATFHE and other actions

of Zionism and Israel on the Web

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Compiled by Andre Oboler and Ami Isseroff

Anti-Israel agitation has produced a number of proposals and attempts to boycott Israel or Israeli academics. Last April, the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities because of alleged human rights and academic freedoms violations. The AUT vote provoked a storm of protest both from supporters of Israel and fair pro-Palestinians. Al-Quds university signed a cooperation agreement with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to help cement ties between Israeli and Palestinian academics. In a second vote on May 26, 2005 the AUT repealed the boycott. However, there is strong support for a boycott in other British Academic unions. NATFHE, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, has seen boycott initiatives, and may merge with the AUT. The Birmingham chapter of The National Union of Teachers (NUT) likewise expressed support for the boycott. For more on the NATFHE boycott initiative and to see the formal AUT council resolutions of May 26, click here.


This page and additional pages give basic source documents and an overview of reactions to the boycott. The Peace Vigil Page is a special multimedia page that documents the Peace Vigil held to protest the boycott outside the offices of the AUT during the revote. Additional comment and reactions is given below and in the links at right.

Victory - for Now
Ami Isseroff

The AUT voted to rescind the boycott as detailed below. However, it is certain that it will not be the end of attempts to initiate anti-Israel boycotts, and it is certain that it did damage in various ways. On the other hand it did some good, since courageous people who support the Palestinian cause like Sari Nusseibeh, John Strawson and many others (including yours truly to tell the truth) had a chance to show that it is possible to be pro-Palestinian or to oppose some aspects of Israeli policy without being anti-Zionist, and to distance themselves from extremists.

Notice - All information from outside sources is presented as received and is not the responsibility of Zionismontheweb

General academic boycott items
The 2006 Proposed blacklist
The 2006 proposed blacklist

Academic Friends of Israel Letter

Academic Friends of Israel-Update

Arguments Against the Boycott
Haifa University Rebuttal of AUT

Haifa U. Legal Representation in RE the AUT Israel Boycott 

Principles of Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation

Israel Council for Higher Education

The Inter-Senate Committee of the Israeli Universities

Letter of Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi

NPC Says: Don't take Academia Hostage

Israeli Academic will address NPC conference to speak on academic freedom

Prof Steinberg's Address on Academic Freedom, NPC Conference 2005

Israeli Academic thanks NPC for its "principled position" over boycott (THES)

Letters of British Academics to the Guardian

PDF - Letter to the AUT from Union of Senior staff Haifa

PDF - Members letter to the AUT

Off site - Silent vigil planned

Off Site - Engage

Off Site - MidEastWeb on AUT Israel Boycott and divestment

Off site - More arguments against the boycott at Engage

26 May 2005 

Israeli boycotts revoked - AUT statement

After a lengthy debate involving deeply held views on both sides of the argument, AUT's special council has today voted to revoke all existing boycotts of Israeli institutions.

AUT council has decided to base its policy on providing practical solidarity to Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists and academics, by agreeing a motion committing the union to having a full review of international policy, working alongside NATFHE and the TUC.

UK higher education has a long and proud tradition of defending academic freedom. The struggle to maintain academic freedom whenever it is under threat is one that AUT will always support and this principle will continue to guide our work.

Sally Hunt, AUT general secretary, said: 'It is now time to build bridges between those with opposing views here in the UK and to commit to supporting trade unionists in Israel and Palestine working for peace.'

Press contact: David Nicholson (press@AUT.org.uk)

Source - http://www.AUT.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=1235

AUT overturns boycott by two thirds in a re-vote

Yaakov Lappin and Jpost Staff (26.05.05)

British Lecturers overturned their decision to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities in a vote on Thursday.

Britain's 40,000-member Association of University Teachers voted last month to boycott the academic institutions for actions that it said undermined Palestinian rights and academic freedom.

It also referred a motion to its executive committee to boycott the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The association said last week it would reconsider the boycott.

Upon exiting the meeting, Scott Styles, an AUT member from the Aberdeen local branch, remarked, "it was a passionate but measured debate." He said that in the first AUT meeting, when it was chosen to pass boycott motion, there was no proper debate, which upset many members."

Styles thought that the first meeting's lack of discussion is what motivated members to vote against the boycott on Thursday.

Paul Anderson, from City University branch of the AUT and part of the department of journalism told The Jerusalem Post that "on all of the substantive motions, the boycott was overturned. It's good news."

Anderson also mentioned "the meeting was quite passionate at some points."

Luciana Berger, a spokesperson for the Union of Jewish Students, was elated at the outcome. "This is fantastic news," she said, pleased with the "good results today."

Berger categorized the results as just. "The feeling here is not one of being triumphant, but that the right decision was made. I'm disappointed we even had to be here in the first place."

UJS's sectary Andre Oboler also felt "relieved," but he was not willing to view the overturned decision as a victory. "This is the start of an ongoing problem," he warned.

Right before the boycott, there was a vigil of about 150 Jewish students standing outside the conference center. The group was addressed by a number of speakers, including MPs. The vigil ended with a singing of the Israeli national anthem, "Hatikva."

With AP (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 05/26/05)


Originally at http://http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1117074327846
(that link is no longer available)

The Academic Friends of Israel

Press Release, 26th May 2005

No more boycotts in the future

Following the AUT vote earlier today, The Academic Friends of Israel (AFI) is delighted that all motions calling for boycott of Israeli institutions were rescinded. The original motions were based on false or highly misleading evidence and called for discriminatory measures that have been rejected by the UK government, the National Post-Graduate Committee and numerous political and academic commentators. Academic and public opinion worldwide has roundly condemned the pernicious nature of the boycott calls.

The AFI strongly recommends that for the future, all suggestions for boycott are recognised as damaging and discriminatory and therefore will not be brought forward again to the AUT.

Ronnie Fraser chair of the Academic Friends of Israel commented:

"Fortunately the attempt of a few extremists to subvert AUT policy has failed. We hope the unambiguous results will put paid to any further misleading and destructive manoeuvres, and allow British scholars to build bridges and promote peace in the Middle East. This applies not only to the AUT but to the forthcoming meeting of NATFHE. Let us remember that this boycott attempt was never about academic freedom but the delegitimisation of the State of Israel"

As well as classical anti-Semitism Jews suffer from what is called "new " anti Semitism which is defined as the demonisation of Israel, the use of religious hate themes against Israel, international double standards for Israel and the delegitimisation of the state of Israel.

 Ronnie Fraser went on to say:

"Although people like Sue Blackwell say they are not anti Semitic, if one uses the definitions of the "new" anti Semitism, her actions in calling for an academic boycott of Israel can clearly be seen as anti Semitic."

For further details, please contact Ronnie Fraser, Chair of The Academic Friends of Israel, via email (mail@academics-for-israel.org) or via mobile (0797 3723289).

Alternatively, contact Robin Stamler at 07957 561 236

The Academic Friends of Israel

Email: mail@academics-for-israel.org

P.O. Box 360



Wonderful News

Jeff Weintraub

( an e-mail announcement)

This is wonderful news, which represents a welcome victory for academic freedom and political sanity. The decisive character of this vote also supports the claim made by a number of British academics that the April 22 resolutions instituting the blacklist of Israeli academics did not reflect the actual views of most AUT members, but instead constituted a political hijacking of the AUT by an organized minority of committed extremists. With this result, the AUT has vindicated that claim and redeemed itself.

This is above all a victory for those AUT members, and others in Britain, who led the campaign to overturn the April 22 vote. I would like to think that they were usefully supported in this effort by the strong public statements condemning the AUT blacklist, and defending the principle of academic freedom, issued by scholarly and academic
associations outside Britain, including including the American Association of University Professors
<http://www.aaup.org/newsroom/press/2005/AUT.htm> (AAUP), the Middle East Studies Association
<http://fp.arizona.edu/mesassoc/CAFMENAletters.htm#051305AUT> (MESA), the American Political Science Association
<> (APSA), the New York Academy of Sciences
<http://newswire.ascribe.org/cgi-bin/behold.pl?ascribeid=20050428.090921&time=10%2008%20PDT&year=2005&public=0>, the National Academy of Sciences
<http://www4.nationalacademies.org/nas/nashome.nsf/urlLinks/NAS-58MTZ2?OpenDocument>, the American Association for the Advancement of Science <http://www.eurekalert.org/static.php?view=aaasisraeli052405>, and the American Federation of Teachers <http://www.aft.org/presscenter/releases/2005/052005.htm>. But our
first congratulations and thanks should go to the British academics and others who led the struggle to bring the AUT to its collective senses (among others, those associated with "Engage" <http://www.liberoblog.com/> and "Zionism on the Web" <http://www.zionismontheweb.org/AUT/>).


At the same time, this is a victory for all of us, because the fundamental issues at stake here are not exclusively British and Israeli.  The April 22 AUT blacklist decision was not an isolated incident, but one product of a long-term campaign, which in turn has been made possible by a range of political, ideological, moral, and intellectual pathologies that remain pervasive. And as several of the pro-blacklist activists made clear immediately after the AUT vote, this is a long-term fight that will not simply go away.

After the vote, Sue Blackwell, an English lecturer at Birmingham University and a leading pro-boycott activist, said she was disappointed but not surprised by the vote. She had believed it would be a "stich-up".

"The struggle goes on. This is the end of the beginning," she said.

"We are not surprised. We saw people who did not come to earlier> meetings there and we knew what the outcome would be.

"We won the moral argument. They just won the vote."

A small group of anti-boycott protesters gathered outside the London venue for the vote.

Among them was Luciana Berger, a member of the Union of Jewish > Students, from Birkbeck, University of London. She said: "We are very happy. It's a victory for peace and open dialogue.

"It's a victory that we shouldn't have had to have won in the first > place."

Professor Steven Rose, from the Open University, said: "The crucial > thing is that the issue is on the agenda and the debate is going to go on and on in every campus up and down the country. *[/BBC News/]*

Unfortunately, this is probably correct--which is one reason by strong and unequivocal statements rejecting the blacklisting of Israeli academics (and academic blacklists in general) remain urgently important.

But for the moment, with respect to the blacklist supporters in Britain and elsewhere, I'm afraid I cannot help thinking of a line about the Americans that Nasser often used in his speeches: "May they choke in their fury!" After that, we can return to reasoned discussion and
debate ...

Yours for academic freedom & political sanity,
Jeff Weintraub*

P.S.* And, by the way, if you haven't yet signed this Anti-Blacklist
Petition <http://www.petitiononline.com/j141789/petition.html>, it
remains highly relevant, so please take this opportunity ...

British group cancels boycott of two Israeli universities
By Tamara Traubman, Haaretz Correspondent, and News Agencies

LONDON - The British Association of University Teachers decided during a special council session Thursday to overturn its controversial boycott of Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities immediately. The group initiated the boycott in April due to what it called the universities' participation in the  occupation.

Britain's largest university teachers' union said in a statement that the council had made its decision "after a lengthy debate involving deeply held views on both sides of the argument."

It said it would now base its policy on "providing practical solidarity to Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists and academics, by agreeing a motion committing the union to having a full review of international policy."

"It is now time to build bridges between those with opposing views here in the U.K. and to commit to supporting trade unionists in Israel and Palestine working for peace," said the union's general secretary, Sally Hunt.

The union had decided to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan universities for actions that it said undermined Palestinian rights and academic freedom. At the same time it referred a motion to its executive committee to boycott the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The union, which has 40,000 members, adopted three proposals to cancel the boycott and rejected a proposal to allow all AUT members to vote on the issue.

"We are pleased that the boycott has been lifted but we're certainly not celebrating," said the Campaign Group for Academic Freedom, an anti-boycott group. "We feel that already a great deal of damage has been done."

Dr. Shalom Lapin, an Israeli citizen who lectures at Kings College in London, said Thursday he would renew his membership in the association, which he had canceled after the original boycott vote. He called on others who had also quit the group to rejoin as well.

"We will return to the association to participate in creating a professional, democratic association that reflects the opinions of its members and not of a group of extremists," said Lapin.

The boycott had prompted angry opposition. Britain's Foreign Office last week praised the union's decision to reconsider it, saying "close engagement" was the best way to bring about a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian

Jewish organizations and opponents of the boycott were feverishly busy before the vote in last-minute preparations for Thursday's meeting.

After the vote, some union members were set to continue the boycott on their own, said Steven Rose, a delegate from the Open University who spoke in favor of the boycott at the council meeting.

"The genie is out of the bottle and cannot be put back again," he said.

Members of the Union of Palestinian University Professors and Employees called on the board of trustees of Al-Quds University to dismiss university president Sari Nusseibeh after he acted against the boycott.

Union chairman Muhammad Abu Zeid said the Palestinian union will call for a general strike in all Palestinian universities if Al-Quds University, which is located in East Jerusalem with colleges inside and around the city, does not dismiss Nusseibeh.

Dr. Sue Blackwell of Birmingham University, one of the driving forces behind the boycott, said ahead of the vote that the outcome seemed to be "fixed." She said many people who had never participated in the AUT would come with the specific aim of stopping the boycott.

"I have never heard of such a thing in the 14 years I have been active in the AUT," she said, noting that special sessions are convened only when there have been changes. "There is something anti-democratic in this," she said. Even when a vote was taken and she lost, Blackwell said, she had never tried to get signatures for a new vote.

The AUT said in April that it would boycott Haifa University until it "committed itself to support academic freedom, and in particularly to stop harassing academic staff and students who want to research and discuss the history of the establishment of the State of Israel." Haifa was targeted
because the union said the university was threatening to fire a political science lecturer for supporting a student's research into allegations of killings by Israeli troops.

The Bar-Ilan boycott was imposed because of the university's connections with the College of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

The Israeli universities had said many elements of the union's allegations against them were false and they condemned the boycott, calling it shameful and a blow to academic freedom. They said they had not expected it to have any immediate effect but saw it as symbolically important.

Background: Opinion about the AUT anti-Israel Boycott

AUT loses the plot

By Andre Oboler

The National Postgraduate Committee passed a motion a little while back condemning the proposed academic boycott of Israel as being against the interests of students in the UK. Previous attempts to boycott have resulted in discrimination against Israeli staff and students on the basis of their nationality. The latest proposal to boycott Israel came from the same old crowd. One of the heads of the boycott movement is Mona Baker, who (as put in an opinion piece in The Times ) “is in cahoots with Britain’s leading anti-semitic lunatic, David Irving” [Giles Coren, Don't play the nutty professor with David Irving, December 14, 2002]. She’s also the one responsible for firing two Israeli academics from a Journal she edited, their crime? Being Israeli, nothing more.

The current motions were put forward by Sue Blackwell who stated in the Guardian that the motions were designed to put pressure on the “illegitimate state of Israel”. I wonder what she considers legitimate, given Israel was established by the UN while most other countries are entirely a result of war? You may have heard of Sue Blackwell before, a few years ago she was ordered to remove web pages from her university website after complaints by the Jewish Board of Deputies... one of the sites she linked to was trying to make out that there was no difference between Israel and Nazi Germany.

The Palestinian Authority officially gave it’s support to the motions – not surprising given the motions stated support for a Palestinian Boycott initiative (quoting the terms of the boycott initiative verbatim) designed to mimic the boycott of South African over apartheid (who needs to argue the facts right? If we treat them the same, people will buy into the argument that they are - without learning the facts). What is the purpose of this boycott? It certainly can't be to help the current efforts towards peace. Sue Blackwell does not believe Israel should exist at all. She believes that all people deserve human rights like the right to self determination – except the Jews.

Somehow, perhaps something to do with the AUT running the meeting just before the start of the Jewish Sabbath and a day before the festival of Passover, (not to mention not allowing any speeches against the motion) all bar one of the anti-Israel motions passed. The motions prepared by the Palestinian activists have now become AUT policy, academic freedom has been thrown out the window, and the AUT now has the task of setting up thought police to ensure only Israel academics who agree with their views are published or collaborated with from the UK. You see, left wing Anti-Semitism needs its good Jews to prove it's not “Racist” - simply against human rights for those it regards as undeserving.

The Academic Friends of Israel (the main group opposing the motions) said that they condemn the AUT call for a boycott which “was based on false information, imposes a discriminatory boycott and vetting of political opinions, and is a backward step in the current climate of positive moves being made in the region.” They also indicated this was the beginning of “a dangerous process against the tenets of academic freedom and may rebound on the AUT itself”.

British AUT getting 'down wiv the kidz'


By Julie Burchill

Prejudice is one of those things - like white shoes or Germans - for which there are very few excuses made. If someone is stingy (stinginess being the halitosis of the soul, as I always say) there's always some do-gooding bystander who'll stand up for them and say 'Oh, but they're just scared of being poor/they used to be poor!'

If someone's a child abuser, even, some jerk will pop up and pipe 'Ooo, it's not their fault - it probably happened to them, too, when they were children! The abused abuse!' Which is patently untrue to anyone with even the flimsiest grasp on mathematics in general and fractions in particular; around three quarters of child abuse victims are girls, but three quarters of child abusers aren't women, are they? D'oh!

But you won't find many people trying to explain why a person is prejudiced. 'Oh, they're just ignorant!' is the best you'll get. And it may well be true. Which is why the sight of 'clever' people showing prejudice seems singularly grotesque. What's THEIR excuse?

I'm asking this right now because a couple of weeks ago, on April 22nd, Britain's Association of University Teachers - an organization representing over 48,000 professional swots - voted to ban all contact with two Israeli universities, and asked its executive committee to consider a boycott against a third, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Israel was accused of being 'a colonial apartheid state' worse than South Africa, a 'regime' worthy of 'removal', and its universities of repressing academic freedom. Needless to say, this show of spite received rapturous applause; well, Britain IS currently playing host to the biggest ever annual number of violent anti-Semitic attacks, both on people and on property, since the 1930s. Who can blame the teachers, so conscious of their uncoolness, for wanting to get 'down wiv the kidz'? They're too respectable to daub swastikas on a synagogue - but it sure feels good to band together and bully them Israeli academics!

Just imagine; for once, the swots aren't having their books ripped up in front of them by a gang of thugs - THEY'RE the ones doing the ripping. But if we learnt nothing else from the Shoah, you'd think we'd have learned that the seductive power of herd-mentality cruelty can suck in the most unlikely people; it sucked in the Germans, for instance, almost all of them, a nation thought by many to be the most cultured and civilized in Northern Europe. And now, sixty years after the rough-necked Brits showed the cultured KrAUTs the true meaning of civilization, we are going through our own dark night of the anti-Semitic soul.

In one way this turn of events is as unexpected as it is cruel - after all, in this country it tends to be academics who react to anything from mild censorship to book-burning with 'That's how Hitler started!' That they are now doing something Hitler would thoroughly approve of, and did - barring contact with Jews - seems to have escaped them. But in another way, it makes logical, horrible sense. It's not so long since English academia saw nothing wrong with having Jewish quotients as a matter of course, lest the 'best' universities be over-run by those unnaturally smart Heebs. Far from flying in the face of English academic freedom, maybe the latest haters are simply reverting to type.

I've always loved being English - but more and more these days, living through this latest, almost post-modern plague of anti-Semitism with a 'caring' face, I wish it was a club that I could resign from, as opposed to a flag I carry in my blood. Trust me, with all your trials and tribulations, you lot don't know how lucky you are. Because you will never, ever be ashamed of and embarrassed by your country the way I am increasingly ashamed of and embarrassed by mine.

You're too damn good-looking for your own good, you're humourless and you don't know the meaning of 'please' and 'thank you' - but you're not bullies, and you never will be. It makes me sad to think that just a few years ago, I thought that last thing about my people, too. I don't anymore.

Julie Burchill is a columnist for The Times of London.

Academics banned from publishing material

By Corinne Gurvitz

The AUT (Association of University Teachers) has just passed a controversial motion banning publication of all Israeli academics at Haifa and Bar Ilan universities. The reaction has been immense from both sides of the debate. Sue Blackwell, who co-wrote the motion, said she was overwhelmed by the result: “We intend to continue the fight. I am proud to be a member of a union that is prepared to stand up for human rights around the world.”

The president of the Israel Universities Council denounced the decision, while the deputy Israeli ambassador in London, Zvi Ravner was disturbed by the decision. “Are they really intending to boycott the Palestinians and the Israeli Arab [academics] who study and work in these institutions, or are they really calling for a boycott of Jews?” Conversely, sources in the Palestinian Authority welcomed the “gesture of solidarity with the Palestinian people.” I don't want to go into the politics of the situation. As we know, everyone has an opinion on Israel. But this decision has shocked and angered me. I look at the situation as apolitical: it is about academics choosing to ignore other academics. Ignoring nationality, or according to some reports, religion, it is a serious breach of what I believe academia to be about. Apart from its possible racism, the scariest thing is that the people who voted for this are not random nuts, but educated and respected members of society. Academia has always been a discipline of freedom and communication, progressive, not regressive. Once you start cutting communication with respectable liberal people, what hope do you have, not just for positive influence, but generally.

If the AUT was opposed to the actions of Israel, as they say, surely they would gain more influence by keeping a dialogue open with the academics who are the most likely to have the influence and open mind to hear them out? Once you start something like this, any sort of dialogue becomes harder, whether between academics or between Israelis and Palestinians. I see the ban of academics anywhere as a serious breach of what academia is about. One of the institutions which has come out in defence of the academics is Al-Quds University in eastern Jerusalem. “We are informed by the principle that we should seek to win Israelis over to our side, not to win against them,” said the university, headed by Dr. Sari Nusseibeh. “Therefore...we believe it is in our interest to build bridges, not walls; to reach out to the Israeli academic institutions, not to impose another dialogue-block on ourselves.” Why did the AUT not think like this? The vast number of academics who walked out of the AUT definitely are. Rogers, back in the 1940s was an academic who believed that we should give all academics a say, and take their opinions outside their politics; let’s hope the AUT realise this too.

Waiting for the Boycott to Bite

The British Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities. Student fear this will generate further anti-Semitism on campus.

From The Guardian:

The Guardian [UK] April 26, 2005 Waiting for the boycott to bite Could the vote by lecturers to suspend links with two Israeli universities fuel a rise in anti-Semitism on campus? Donald MacLeod and Polly Curtis report


In theory, Friday's now notorious decision by British lecturers to mount an academic boycott of Israel has nothing to do with their students. It might affect joint research projects or conferences, perhaps the occasional PhD student.

In practice, the boycott vote has fanned a bitter row about anti-semitism already smouldering in the National Union of Students and in several student unions around the country. Coming after the resignations of three Jewish student officers during this month's NUS annual conference, claiming the union leadership was turning a blind eye to anti-semitism, the Association of University Teachers' vote provoked instant condemnation from the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).

"We see it as a another nail in the coffin of Jewish students," says Danny Stone, campaigns director of UJS. "The AUT should be ashamed of themselves. We are going to call for AUT members to resign. It is absolutely appalling. How can they justify teaching about the Middle East conflict when it is clear that those who voted for the boycott are biased?"

Stone says the boycott could cause tension and hatred in universities. "The worry is that it separates 'good Jews' from 'bad Jews' on campus by whether they speak out in favour of a boycott, or support Israel, or say nothing."

And there is already tension. The NUS is holding an inquiry into the complaints by Luciana Berger and Mitch Simmons, who resigned from the national executive, and Jonny Warren, who resigned from the steering committee. They felt the NUS leadership had failed to react robustly when a pamphlet referring to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was discoverd on a Palestinian students' stall. The Protocols, a 19th-century forgery about a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, has a grim record of being used to whip up anti-Jewish feeling and justify pogroms even before the Nazis used it.

Warren, who says he got involved in the NUS to combat the appearance of the British National Party at Leeds University, where he was studying, says he felt utter revulsion that such a "disgusting" leaflet should be on show at the union conference. The "tepid" response of the leadership prompted his resignation, along with Simmons and Berger, who complained the NUS had not dealt firmly with other incidents during the year, particularly provocative statements at the union of the School of Oriental and African Studies, in London.

Their resignations prompted "distress" from the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, that Jewish students should feel intimidated. Islamic and Palestinian student groups issued sympathetic statements but clearly felt the complaints were being overdone -they saw the same incident in a different light.

The General Union of Palestine Students (Gups) said it disassociated itself from the leaflet on Zionism on its stall and that it did not represent its views in any way. "Once Gups became aware of the existence of the leaflet, it was removed from the stall," said a statement last week.

The group added: "The NUS was extremely supportive and efficient in helping to resolve the matter fairly, justly and rapidly. Gups met with the UJS at the invitation of the NUS and an amicable resolution was reached and the leaflet removed.

"Gups condemns any act of racism or discrimination. We ourselves have suffered several attempts to stop our meetings in universities in the last academic year."

Last week, the group had not commented directly on the AUT Israel Boycott but its attitude is clear. "We understand the Palestinian struggle as a quest for freedom and self-determination by our people against illegal occupation. We believe that the only way to end the Israeli occupation is by putting pressure on Israel to adhere to international law and to stop its policy of occupation and land confiscation," said the statement.

"We believe that the people of the Holy Land (Muslims, Jews and Christians) deserve to live there in peace. We in Gups had the courage to take the road to peace even when this meant a state of Israel on 78% of our historical Palestine, and we invite pro-Israeli organisations to take such a step so that we all can live in a lasting and just peace."

Wakkas Khan, president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), said: "We condemn all forms of anti-semitism towards any Jewish student within the national union. Recently Muslim students have been on the backlash of increased Islamophobia. We need to tackle all forms of discrimination. We empathise with our Jewish friends and stand shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community to rid society of these grotesque forms of discrimination."

However, Fosis could not resist pointing out that anti-semitism was not the main form of discrimination within the student movement. "Recent figures released show that while a Jew is three times more likely to be attacked, an Asian or a black person is 10 times more likely to be attacked, and an Arab or Muslim is 11 times more likely," said the group.

Fosis felt it had a good conference, helping to defeat the Labour group in the executive elections and hosting a meeting addressed by Professor Tariq Ramadan - seen by Muslims as a moderate scholar of international repute, but opposed by some as anti-gay and banned from the US.

There is a certain amount of the usual infighting that characterises student politics as different factions try to assert themselves. The past few years have seen Muslim students arrive in strength at some UK universities and while the NUS can always agree to condemn racism, it is more concerned about Islamophobia than anti-semitism. And for both Jews and Muslims Israel-Palestine is a visceral issue that embitters student politics.

Three years ago passions were running high when students at Manchester University tried to commit their union to a boycott of Israeli goods. Manchester has a 500-strong Jewish society with strong local community networks. It also has about 2,500 Muslim students and a strong Islamic society, whose members have begun to play a more assertive role in student union politics.

Then as now, pro-Palestinian supporters cited the success of the boycott of apartheid South Africa as a good precedent and accused Israel of operating an apartheid system.

On that occasion, Jewish students, who feared an economic boycott was the thin end of a wedge that would lead to the proscription of Zionism and hence the banning of Jewish societies from student unions (something that occurred sporadically in the 1980s), successfully resisted the move.

Despite the defeat for the Manchester motion in 2002, there has been a total of 19 boycott motions at student unions since then, according to Stone. Even though they were unsuccessful, they soured relations on campus and made Jewish students feel less safe and welcome, he says. Then, as now, student politics and the stance taken by academics seemed to interact. In the same year, Professor Mona Baker, of the then University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist), became a global cause célèbre when she sacked two Israeli academics from journals that she owned, in line with an academic boycott against Israel. She vehemently denied anti-semitism, saying the two professors were friends, but argued they were representing their universities and hence the state of Israel.

That did not stop Baker being investigated by her own university in the wake of a political outcry, despite the fact that her action related to her private business activities. She is still on the staff of the merged Manchester University, as is another Umist professor, Michael Sinnott, who was investigated over an intemperate email, in defence of Baker, that he sent to a Harvard academic, in which he described Israel as the "mirror image of Nazism".

Boycotting Israel can be viewed as blatant discrimination by a university, as Oxford's Andrew Wilkie, Nuffield professor of pathology, discovered to his cost in 2003. He told Amit Duvshani, a student at Tel Aviv University, that he would not agree to his request to work in his laboratory because the professor had a "huge problem" with the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

Referring to the student's three years of Israeli national service, he wrote: "I am sure you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army." Wilkie was suspended - the stiffest disciplinary measure short of dismissal - and told to take part in equal opportunities training.

This is something the AUT will now have to grapple with, as its executive works out how to advise members. Will it be advising them to break the law? University managers will be in no hurry to help it out. Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, who has clashed with AUT general secretary, Sally Hunt, in the past, says pointedly: "[It is] deeply problematic and very unhelpful and opens up all sorts of questions and issues at a point when most people want to be getting on with the main job of academia and I would have thought that they would have wanted to get on with their role in implementing the pay agreement."

It was a swift reversal of the celebratory mood on Thursday night as the union leadership toasted the decision to merge with the other lecturers' union, Natfhe, after nine months of arduous negotiation. The next day that was shattered when the conference narrowly defeated the leadership's frantic attempts to dodge the boycott. It made several efforts to stop it: bringing its own motion to "remove barriers" between academics in Israeli and Palestinian universities, which was rubbished by the pro-boycott lobby when it referred to building links with an Israeli academic union that didn't exist. It also approved a separate motion to circulate information from Palestinian academics, without committing the union to action. Both were seen as attempts to persuade the wavering sympathisers to reject the main three boycott motions.

These, the leadership argued, should be referred back to the executive because the facts weren't clear enough. But the pro-boycott campaigners had got in there first with a supportive message from Ilan Pappe, the Jewish academic at Haifa University who is at the centre of claims that the university threatens the academic freedom of those who criticise Israel.

The boycott has been noisily condemned around the world. The merger honeymoon didn't last long.

For students, the AUT decision will make it harder for the NUS, which has opposed a boycott up to now, to patch things up between its warring factions. Kat Fletcher, the NUS president, is anxious to conclude the independently chaired inquiry as soon as possible and take action if it is recommended. Meanwhile, she is seeking clarification from the AUT. Asked about the conference incident and the resignations, she said she feels bound not to prejudge the inquiry but says the NUS has a proud history of fighting racism of all kinds.

Danny Stone says Jewish students will question whether there is a place for them in the NUS at all, if they do not get satisfaction. "We will have to consider very carefully our place within the NUS if there is no proper investigation, no serious thought given to it, and it is just swept aside."  



Why I am against the AUT Israel Boycott of Israeli Universities, by John Strawson, Reader in Law, UEL

John Strawson is a friend of the Palestinian Cause and is associated with Bir Zeit University



Solidarity with Palestinian Universities, Scholars and Students
The curious aspect of the AUT Israel Boycott activists is that they do very little about actual solidarity with Palestinian Universities. The simple, although less headline grabbing tasks of making institutional links, developing teaching and research activities, enabling academic and student mobility, mobilizing educational resources, developing and maintaining academic contacts, seem low on their agenda. I just wonder what they were doing during the terrible years of Sharon's war against the Palestinians? In my opinion the priority should be the building of effective links with Palestinian Universities. This is a positive contribution that extends academic freedom.

The Boycott and the Anti-Apartheid Campaign
The African National Congress called for a comprehensive boycott of apartheid in 1959, a call which was responded to by India, which led the campaign in the United Nations. Part of the cultural boycott was aimed at universities. The whole argument about South Africa in the apartheid years was that it was quite exceptional. The Racial Classification Board declared your race at birth, which would decide where you would live, what school you would attend, what job you could have, what wages you would earn, whether you could vote and what papers you carried. This does not happen in Israel, where Palestinians do have the vote, do participate in elections in all parties and while schooling is run on faith-based lines (as in many other countries) higher education is quite integrated. There are discriminatory laws, there is social discrimination and there is equivocation for equal rights on the designation of the state as ‘Jewish’. However, this is not apartheid South Africa where any organization opposed to the regime was banned and criminalized. The boycott campaign against apartheid was highly organized in this exceptional case. It received UN backing through the special committee on apartheid. The ANC played an active role in working out the policies and implementing them. This wide measure of international, and in particular UN involvement, ensured that this was a not a personalized vendetta and never aimed at South Africans. As an activist in the Anti-Apartheid Movement I well remember stressing that the boycott was against apartheid not against South Africa. It was not a matter of individuals arrogantly deciding what was a good for a national liberation movement – or selecting which academics they liked and which they did not according to a subjective political test. Placing Israel in the same category as apartheid South Africa is as crude as it is inaccurate. In fact it detracts from the actual apartheid features of the Israeli occupation the passes, the road system, checkpoints, closures and most dramatically, the wall.

The Boycott Activists
I was invited to two meetings of the boycott activists in the fall of 2004. I was slightly surprised, as my opposition to a boycott position was on record. I thought, however, it might be interesting, so I went and stated my position. I spoke in favour of positive academic links with Palestine and extending academic freedom. This seemed reasonably well received and in an e-mail discussion they seemed to be moving away from the blanket boycott position. The second meeting, which discussed the AUT resolutions, contained a rather unpleasant discourse. References were made to ‘rich and powerful Zionists’ and certain well-known Palestinian leaders and academics were described as 'collaborators’. While of course this was background and the opinion of individuals, it was, I thought, instructive and I broke any connections with these people, although it was suggested that I had ‘come under pressure.’

‘I feel that we may have not offered you enough support and that grieves me, because pressure experienced alone can be really horrible. I quote the email I was sent indicating the dubious and patronizing nature of a sect-like group. Sue Blackwell’s published views in the Guardian leave no doubt in my mind, that in the main, the people behind the AUT Israel Boycott campaign are rather crude Anti-Zionists. Blackwell says that Israel is an 'illegitimate state' and goes on to denounce Israeli academics for serving in the IDF, which is compulsory. Other little clues include comments that Israeli Universities have not denounced the occupation. But neither have British Universities denounced the occupation of Iraq. Nor did they denounce internment in Northern Ireland. I think that this group is attempting to use widespread and justified opposition to the Israeli occupation to be mobilized for another agenda.

Academics and the Occupation of Palestine
I do not think that an academic boycott of Israeli universities is correct in principle. Boycotts of universities always undermine academic freedom which must be seen as undesirable. The Chinese occupation of Tibet (for nearly 5 decades) has not provoked a call for a boycott for this reason. Exchanging ideas, debating issues, working on common projects, collaborative publishing ventures are valuable in and of themselves.
The university sector in Israel is currently under attack from the right wing for being too liberal, particularly on the Palestine question. Many academics need our support.
There is much original work being undertaken on history and politics, which undermines many of the reactionary ideas which are used to justify the occupation, settlements and the wall. See for example Baruch Kimmerling's Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War against the Palestinians, (Verso, 2003). Ilan Pape's work is challenging and although his alleged treatment is singled out as the main reason for the boycott of Haifa University, his work is published and widely read in Israel. Even his support for the boycott was published as an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post.

Academics at the end of the day, have little power in the political arena. However, what we can do is through teaching, research, publication and broadcasting attempt mobilize ideas for freedom. Working with people positively seems far more likely to help create conditions that will end the occupation than the negative boycott. The boycott is a call to do nothing about the occupation at all - and it plays directly into the hands of a growing body of Anti-Semitism in Europe where the boycott has a long tradition.

John Strawson, Reader in Law, University of East London
April 2005

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