The Socialist Unity Network

Socialist Unity wants to hear from you.
Got a comment?

Why not email us with your thoughts?

Lecturers vote for Israeli boycott

The 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 Palestinians.

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 annual conference.

"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."


April 2005

From Guardian reports

For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism