A lecturers’ union was last night accused of launching a new academic boycott of Israel after it agreed a policy to call on its members to “consider” their links with Israeli institutions.
The University and College Union voted overwhelmingly at its Manchester conference to call on colleagues to “consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating”.
The motion had been carefully devised in the light of legal advice the union received last year after previous attempts to boycott Israeli academics and institutions. The advice suggested that a boycott would be discriminatory and illegal.
Academics argued that it was not a new boycott, but a show of their right to debate the issues facing Palestinian colleagues and, separately, links with Israeli institutions.
Tom Hickey of the NEC and Brighton University, which proposed the motion, told delegates: “Being a student or teacher in Palestine is not easy… we are talking about not just impediment but serial humiliation and that’s the order of the day in Palestine.
“In the face of accusations of anti-semitism and legal threats we refused to be intimidated. We will protect the union from legal threats but we will not be silenced.”
Lorna Fitzsimons, joint head of the Stop the Boycott campaign, said: “Boycotts of any kind do nothing to promote peace and moderation in the Middle East, as well as undermining the academic freedom and integrity of British academic institutions.
“A boycott has never been the right answer for those looking to genuinely help Palestinians and Israelis. The way forward must be to build bridges, encourage dialogue and allow ordinary Israelis and Palestinians the opportunity to engage with each other.”
In a statement, the vice-chancellors’ umbrella group, Universities UK, said: “We believe a boycott of this kind, advocating the severing of academic links with a particular nationality or country, is at odds with the fundamental principle of academic freedom.”