The willingness to boycott Israel because of its policy towards the Palestinians has existed for many years – now and many years ago. Over 10 years ago, the University and College Union (UCU) called on its members to boycott Israeli academic institutions because of “Israel’s harsh policy toward the Palestinians”, as claimed by the UCU, and added, “the moral implications of contact with Israeli academic institutions should be considered.”
A discussion on the subject was held with the participation of hundreds, with no fewer than 158 delegates voting in favor of the boycott and 99 voting against it. Prof. David Newman (Ben-Gurion University) of the Negev, who was on sabbatical in London at the time and represented the Israeli universities, told Ynet about the conference: “Nothing enthralled the participants other than criticism of the State of Israel. The fact that the organization was supposed to deal with matters of employment, tenure and pensions, like any other union, was of no interest to them at all.”
Prof. David Newman continued, “The discussion was fierce. In my opinion, today, like then, calls for a boycott will have no effect whatsoever, certainly not practical effects. There will be a lot of hot air and headlines, but almost no significant boycotting actions. On the contrary – during the past decade, despite the calls for a boycott, the number of joint scientific projects between British and Israeli institutions and researchers has only increased, thanks to the academic excellence of researchers in both countries.”
UCU is an organization that brings together the National Association of Teachers of Higher Education in Britain (NATFHA) and the Association of University Teachers (AUT) union. It is the largest organization of lecturers and academics in Britain, and was founded by the unification of the two organizations about a year ago.
It is important to note that the desire to impose a boycott on Israel in 2007 was the fourth in as many years among British lecturers’ unions. Earlier, an Israeli academic delegation that arrived in Britain attempted to convince the senior members of that British organization to cancel the boycott. During the discussion, which was held in Britain before the discussion in Israel, and which took place at the University of Brighton, one of the lecturers calling for the boycott of Israel claimed that, “the State of Israel is committing horrific crimes in the occupied territories.”
In response to the lecturer’s comments, Israeli lecturers argued that the same British organization working to boycott Israeli academic institutions has a one-sided perspective of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. In matters concerning Israel, some British universities no longer constitute safe places for students, especially those wanting to hold balanced discussions on the subject. Only last week, a loud group of students unsuccessfully attempted to interfere with a lecture given by former Deputy Minister Dan Meridor.
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