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The Peace Vigil - Protesting the AUT anti-Israel Boycott
Part of the AUT Israel Boycott Resource Pages at Zionism and Israel on the Web

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Welcome to the Vigil
Andre Oboler

The AUT's decision to boycott Bar-Ilan and Haifa Universities caused shock waves across the Jewish Community in the UK. It came just weeks after antisemitic attacks were made in propaganda distributed at the NUS (National Union of Students) annual conference. Those attacks and a lack of regard for Jewish students lead to three signations at the NUS conference.

Now a group of well organized activists had taken over the university lecturers union. Previous calls for academic boycotts (from these same people) had lead to discrimination against Jewish students and Jewish staff in the UK. They had lost on a motion to boycott in past years, but last December called a conference at SOAS in London to discuss strategy. The call to boycott just two universities and spread a Palestinian call for a general boycott (without calling for one) was "a tactical attempt to get it through," admitted Sue Blackwell, the author of the boycott motions. At a time when peace in the Middle East was again looking hopeful, the boycott sought not only to cut off dialogue and drive Israelis and Palestinians further apart, but to bring the conflict onto local campuses.

In response Jewish students gathered from 10:30am on the 26th of May to promoted a message of peace and of disbelief at the action of their lecturers. The Peace Vigil took place in the garden outside Friends Meeting House where the AUT were meeting to properly debate the boycott motion and discuss over turning them. Police estimated a crowd of 150 at the Vigil, despite the fact that it took place at the peak of the exam period.

The vigil listened to well known public figures speak of their disappointment in this AUT action. We sang songs of peace. We discussed the climate of growing acceptability of antisemitism in the UK. Yihyeh Tov, it will be alright, one of the songs read.

The Peace Vigil ended as delegates came out of the hall at 4pm. The media gathered around as boycott promoters continued to push their message into every available microphone and camera. The Engage group held a press conference at 5pm where they warned it wasn't over yet, and highlighted the antisemitism behind the boycott. Particular note was made of the fact that because they opposed the boycott they were labeled as part of some "Well Funded Zionist Lobby." As the proud owner of a T-Shirt from the Vigil I know how they feel. All student groups organize T-shirts, yet when it's Jewish student suddenly (according to Sue Blackwell) we're part of some well funded conspiracy. I'm sure the boycotters know that such allegations come directly from The Protocol and were manufactured in Tzarist Russia to spread hate of the Jews. As the pro-boycott lobby vow to fight on, and student wait for the next blow that will no doubt fall on them (as usual) we begin to wonder when the public will notice the antisemitism in its midst and join us in our calls for peace and cooperation - rather than the spreading of hate.

Entrance to the AUT Special Council
Click for the full picture

Multimedia archive

The material in this archive was captured on the day of the peace Vigil by the Zionism on the Web team. This work is copyright. Please direct people who want to hear it to this page.


Compiled Extracts

Compilation of reactions to the boycott and to it being over turned. These extracts are compiled from the clips below and other recordings. Appearances: Lord Greville Janner, Luciana Berger (ex-NUS officer), John Levy (Academic Study Group on Israel), Wendy Sandler (Haifa University), Andre Oboler (UJS National Executive)


Opening Remarks

Greville Janner (extracts)

Luciana Berger (extracts)

Roger Lyons (extracts)

Wendy Sandler (extracts)


We also interviewed a police spokesman from the Holburn partnership over the phone.


He informed us that:

  • Police estimated the crowd at 150 people.

  • The vigil lasted from 10am to 4pm.

  • It was a very good natured peaceful protest.

  • There were no arrests made and no damage.

  • A small group agitated but were very quickly quietened- down by the rest and the vigil continued in a good atmosphere.

Other feedback

We'd like to hear you impressions of the Peace Vigil or the AUT meeting if you were a delegate. Contact:


or use the following address in your e-mail program:

Additional photographs, audio or video for this page are also welcome


Click to enlarge
Singing at the Peace Vigil ...All the world is, a very narrow bridge, but the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all...
The Vigil is addressed by a speaker
Singing at the Peace Vigil ... Am Yisrael Chai!, The people of Israel still live...
Listening to the speakers
Aleinu ve al kol ha'olam, Salam... For us and for all the world, salam (Peace) - singing at the Peace Vigil
Addressed by a speaker and Luciana Berger
The Peace Vigil

Back to the Academic Boycott Page


This Page


Compilation of sound bites

Opening Remarks

Lord Janner

Luciana Berger

Roger Lyons

Wendy Sandler


AUT Statement when Boycott was repealed (UK)

First news story - Jerusalem Post (Media - Israel)

Academic Friends of Israel Statement (UK)

Jeff Weintraub's Statement (USA)

Haaretz Article (Media - Israel)

The Friend - Quaker Magazine article

Related Pages at This Site

UK Academia - Main AUT & NATFHE Page

Other anti-Zionist and anti-Israel Boycotts

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

Yehuda 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)
This was the first article available to the public after the result was announced.


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                                                



Jeff Weintraub is a social and political theorist, currently a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. He invited academics to join the AAUP in condemning the boycott of Israeli universities and academics
by signing an >online petition. With the aid of Zionism on the Web and the Union of Jewish Students a physical copy of this petition (signed by just shy of 5,000 academics) was presented to the AUT just prior to the start of the Special Council.

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 (AAUP), the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), the New York Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Federation of Teachers. 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" and "Zionism on the Web").


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.

The Friend is the weekly Quaker magazine published in London. It provides independent news and views from a Quaker perspective. The AUT Special Council tool place inside the London Friends Meeting House, the Peace Vigil took place in the Garden of Friends Meeting House. (This article has been reproduced with permission.)

Major demonstration outside Friends House
From The Friend, June 3rd 2005

Friends House was the scene of a large national demonstration on 21 May, when the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) protested outside the emergency meeting being held by the Association of University Teachers (AUT).

The AUT meeting was held to review a controversial decision to boycott Israeli universities. A motion had been passed at their annual conference to boycott two Israeli universities, Haifa and Bar-Ilan. The universities denied the accusations made against them and the boycott was the subject of fierce debate in the education press.

André Oboler, national secretary of the UJS, said 'Basically we think this is incredibly unfair and also discriminatory and dangerous for the students here. It's counter to peace in the Middle East, when what we really need is people working together and cooperating' he added: 'I'm from Lancaster University where we do have very good cooperation. We have an interfaith dialogue, which meets regularly – and we have Friends represented there as well. We get together and we manage to discuss things: this motion which they're looking to repeal here basically says that sort of thing shouldn't happen, people shouldn't discuss the problems, people shouldn't work together – and this doesn't help anyone.'

While the AUT meeting was in progress, a member of the Campaign Group for Academic Freedom, who did not wish to be named, said: 'Most of us – whatever we feel about the situation – would like to see peace there. But if the boycott is overturned we will not be celebrating as a lot of damage will have been done: damage to the peace process and damage to voices for peace on both sides.'

After a four hour emergency session, the AUT delegates emerged having overturned the previous motion by a sizeable majority, voting 'to revoke all existing boycotts of Israeli institutions.'

Outside, notwithstanding the defeat, Steven Rose, a professor of biology at the Open University and one of the initiators of the original motion calling for the university boycott, remained steadfast in his views. 'Our campaign now will be to take the argument for the boycott into every university, on to every campus where we can have a debate and discuss the issues, and the more that we do that the more the boycott will grow. The genie is out of the bottle.'

His sentiment was echoed by Sue Blackwell, from Birmingham University, who stated: 'This is the start, not the end, as far as the boycott campaign is concerned'.

After the vote, David Hirsch, from Goldsmiths, an AUT member who was present, said: 'This has rescued the AUT. The AUT was in serious trouble. It had a smell of anti-semitism about it, both in the UK and internationally. Members were leaving... and more members would have left today if the vote had gone the wrong way. The AUT was open to lawsuits and legal action.

'This has not been a victory for Ariel Sharon, the settlers or the separation wall. It has been a victory for the cultural, democratic spaces where Jewish and Palestinians study side by side rather than demonising each other.' He added: 'There has got to be a mass movement here for a just peace.'

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