Lecturers vote for Israeli boycott
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
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,
said: "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."
There were four non-union campaigners against the
boycott outside the hall. Gerald Adler, a retired academic, said: "It is a very,
very retrograde step. It certainly isn't going to help dialogue, and it
certainly isn't going to help people get closer. It separates them."
Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the AUT, said
in a statement that the union would issue members guidance on the boycotts.
She said: "AUT council today decided to boycott
Haifa University and the Bar-Ilan University.
"The executive committee will issue guidance to AUT
members on these decisions.
"Council delegates also referred a call to boycott
the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the executive committee will investigate
the background to this and will report in due course.
Council delegates also agreed to circulate to all
local associations a statement from Palestinian organisations calling for an
academic boycott of Israeli institutions."
Sue Blackwell, a lecturer at Birmingham University
who co-wrote the motion, said she was overwhelmed by the result at the AUT's
"We now have a boycott against a quarter of the
universities in Israel, and we intend to continue the fight," she said. "I am
proud today to be a member of a union that is prepared to stand up for human
rights around the world."