Thursday, May 26, 2005


A view from Haifa University

An interview with Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan, a professor at Haifa University

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Victory at AUT conference

The boycott of Israeli universities was defeated overwhelmingly (about 80:20 on a show of hands) at the AUT special conference today, 26 May.

The conference did not get to the longer motions stating opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and support for a Palestinian state as well as rejection of the boycott.

At a press conference/ fringe meeting afterwards, however, the main figures of the anti-boycott campaign, David Hirsh, Jon Pike, Robert Fine, and John Strawson all spoke on that theme. Strawson said that the existing Palestinian solidarity movement in Britain is crippled by the fact that it hates Israel much more than it loves Palestine, and called for the creation of a new movement of solidarity for the Palestinians based on positive, democratic ideas rather than hatred of Israel.

The question now is what can be done to gather and consolidate some of the people stirred up by all this, and build the movement that John Strawson called for.

There has been talk of an emergency pro-boycott motion coming forward at NATFHE conference this coming weekend. After the decisive vote at AUT conference, that seems unlikely, but NATFHE members need to be vigilant.

And the whole issue may have to be re-debated after the upcoming merger of AUT and NATFHE.

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AUT members overturn proposed boycott,9830,1493083,00.html

Press Association
Thursday May 26, 2005

Academics voted today to overturn their controversial boycott of Israeli universities, sources said.

Delegates were said to have voted overwhelmingly in favour of abandoning the boycott at a special meeting of the Association of University Teachers in London.

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The 25 May "eve of AUT special conference" meeting

The anti-boycott meeting of 25 May in London is reported here, in roundabout but perhaps instructive fashion, by way of reproducing a protest against the meeting from Charlie Pottins (who was one of the pro-boycott leafleters at the AUT special conference on 26 May) and a response by Martin Thomas.

Hi Charlie,

I've had a copy of your email about tonight's meeting against the academic boycott of Israel forwarded to me.

You start off by indicating that you oppose "all-out boycott" of Israel. The pro-boycott campaigners make absolutely no secret of it - see their website,, for example - that they favour such all-out boycott, and have proposed the selective boycott of Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities as only the first step.

You also say that you understand that socialists and friends of the Palestinian cause see the "selective" boycott as wrong and counterproductive. (Part of the reason why, of course, is that we see that the "selective" boycott can only get adopted by applying criteria to Israeli universities applied to no other universities in the world, and thus makes no sense except as a lead-in to all-out boycott).

But then - by way of all sorts of matters irrelevant to this evening's meeting - you arrive at the conclusion that the meeting was tantamount to an "'emergency' meeting to which we invite the bosses' representatives to mobilise against a strike!"


You weren't at the meeting, so you won't know what was said there. Both Dave Hirsh (speaking in place of Jon Pike) and Sean Matgamna, from the platform, and others like Camila Bassi from the floor, coupled their opposition to the boycott with outspoken support for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and for the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own.

I can't guarantee that everyone in the meeting agreed 100% - but for sure no-one challenged that position.

Some of the motions to the AUT special conference simply oppose the boycott. Many of them, including those directly promoted by Jon Pike and Dave Hirsh, call for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own.

Of the Israeli academics present at the meeting, all expressed general assent with what Dave Hirsh and Sean Matgamna had said, and one declared herself a strong opponent of the Israeli government.

The meeting was held as on the eve of the AUT special conference, for which all the delegates are now elected, and in solidarity with the almost-certain decision of that conference to overturn the boycott. In no way could it be considered anti-union.

Was the boycott analogous to a strike? If so, a strike against whom? Not employers, but other employees - the AUT membership's analogues in Israel. And where do the "bosses' representatives" come in? The British university bosses were not at the meeting, nor for that matter have they expressed any great worry about the boycott decision!

Is your view really that once the AUT - by a snap vote, without any debate - had decided on the boycott, it was a matter of principle to support it?

Much of the rest of what you write seems to me irrelevant, and a great deal of it, especially as regards Galloway, is covered by the maxim that our enemy's enemy is not necessarily our friend.

I should say, though, that on first hearing of the boycott controversy - before the regular AUT conference - I phoned and emailed Sue Blackwell to offer her space to present her views in our paper Solidarity. She refused. We asked Steven Rose to come and debate the issue at our summer school in July. He refused. We still presented their views in Solidarity, by way of material from their website,, and a statement (drawn from that website) which Steven Rose supplied us with.

Both Sue Blackwell and Steven Rose gave, as their reason for refusing debate, that AWL is firmly and actively against the boycott. That is true, of course. Has been true for many years. Even back in the 1970s, when we still had a "single secular democratic state" policy on Israel/Palestine, we denounced the decision by the National Union of Students at that time to equate Zionism with racism (thus indicating that "Zionists" should be boycotted in the same way as racists). But isn't debate about confronting different ideas? What can it mean to refuse debate with anyone who firmly disagrees with you? That you debate only with those who agree with you? Or only with those who are unsure? Or only those who differ by no more than small shades and nuances?

As for what you write about "witch-hunts", I think there is some over-dramatisation. No doubt the prominent figures on both sides of the boycott debate have made themselves very unpopular with lots of people on the other side. But Sue Blackwell and Steven Rose have received lavish and rather favourable coverage from media like the Guardian and the BBC. See, for example. The only people who have been substantively "witch-hunted" in this business so far are people like Miriam Shlesinger, an Israeli peace and Amnesty International activist removed from the editorial board of an academic journal just for being Israeli.

Best wishes,


*********************************** wrote:


Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 07:57:16 EDT

Subject: AWL has gone too far - a personal view

The Alliance for Workers Liberty is holding a meeting tonight against the boycott of Israeli universities.

Mark Osborn of the AWL asked me if I would help circulate this to members of the Jewish Socialists' Group. (I am on the JSG's national committee and responsible for a Members Bulletin). I told him that the JSG has already adopted a policy on the boycott, and that I would not be encouraging members to attend the AWL's meeting.

(Incidentally, I only received the notice last night, and so far as I am aware AWL has made no previous attempt to discuss this issue with the JSG. So it does not even rate as serious fishing!)

I want to add some remarks about this.

There has been and will doubtless continue a perfectly reasonable discussion among socialists, trade unionists and peace campaigners etc concerning the boycott tactic, whether it is justified against Israeli academic institutions, or useful, and how it should be applied. Having opposed the all-out boycotts proposed by some people, and called for "smart" targetting, I welcomed the AUT resolutions as the right step, but I can appreciate that others, including fellow-JSG members and other socialists, and Israeli

friends like Reuven Kaminer and Avraham Oz disagree. They deserve respect. A continuing discussion is in order, and continuing collaboration regardless of whether we sometimes disagree. But this meeting called by AWL is not such a forum for comrades. How can it be a "forum to discuss key issues" when it states beforehand "Against the boycott"?

What is left to discuss - how to defeat the boycott, or continue the witch-hunt against those proposing the boycott in the AUT?

It is being called as an "Emergency" on the eve of an AUT recall conference forced by boycott opponents, some of whom oppose the right of the union to take any principled stand. (They say calling for solidarity with Palestinians goes beyond the union's stated objects of defending member's interests. Today it is the Palestinians whose rights are to be ignored. Tomorrow the same argument for narrow-mindedness could be used against solidarity with other people being persecuted - for instance Jews).

The speakers advertised don't look like people who have come to discuss the best ways of showing solidarity with the Palestinians.

Jon Pike, who is billed to speak, has been leading the demand for recall. Engage has been carrying statements on its website smearing boycott supporters as "antisemitic", and appealing to people with no previous interest in the union to join just so they assist in the boycott's defeat.

Who are the unnamed speakers from Haifa and Bar Ilan who have been flown in?

(by whom we don't know but it isn't the peace camp and we'd guess it isn't the AWL that is paying their bills).

Prominent Israeli campaigners like Uri Avneri and Tom Segev have said the boycott on Bar Ilan is well justified and was brought on itself. (this is the University that works with West Bank settlers and the miklitary, and was incidentally alma mater to the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin!)

Haifa University is currently hosting a conference on Israel's "demographic problem" (meaning too many Arab kids). It previously earned notoriety for stripping a student of his doctorate because his thesis on a 1948 massacre upset politicians. OK, it also has many Arab students, and some decent progressive staff. But instead of arguing its case against the boycott with AUT members, Haifa University has gone to the lawyers to threaten the union. How can you have an honest discussion in such circumstance?

The smear campaign and hate mail against Sue Blackwell has been unremitting. It did not start with the AUT boycott resolution, but with her earlier "crime" of running a pro-Palestinian website which the UJS and Zionist lobby wanted silenced. The Israeli government's supporters wanted Sue's employers at Birmingham University to act against her, and boasted of the pressure they were exercising to get her out. Relying on spurious "associations", the UJS has presented misleading and false information about her to a parliamentary committee. Not the first time incidentally that the Zionist-run union has given duff information to MPs.

The AWL's members know Sue Blackwell not only as a trade unionist but a genuine socialist and anti-racist with whom they shared membership in the Socialist Alliance and its Democratic Platform group. Sue challenged the SWP in the Stop the War Coalition over its accomodation to political Islamicists, and her website includes a section exposing antisemites and Nazis trying to masquerade as "anti-Zionists" and friends of the Palestinian cause. She has exposed Israel Shamir and broken website links to his co-thinkers, including Gilad Atzman after he attacked Jewish comrades active here.

Whatever genuine tactical disagreements take place among socialists and supporters of Palestinian rights and a just peace, they should take second place to the need for solidarity with the Palestinian people and students, and against supporters of Israeli Zionist repression and reactionary smears.

Among trades unionists, though not perhaps some of those who have only recently wakened to interest in the AUT, it is well understood that whatever disagreements we have to discuss among ourselves on tactics and whether to take action, we defend each other against witch-hunts and victimisation, we don't support lawsuits against our union to prevent it taking a stand, and we don't call "emergency" meetings to which we invite the bosses' representatives to mobilise against a strike!

Unfortunately, what seems basic principle to us seems unimportant or alien to the AWL. Many of us have our doubts and criticism of George Galloway MP and his party Respect, but were happy to see him shaking New Labour, and telling the US Senate where to go. To read the AWL's propaganda you'd think the biggest enemy for socialists in Britain was Galloway, not Blair.

Many of us support Iraqi trade unionists and oppose the military and economic occupation of Iraq. In the Stop the War Coalition, in our unions, and groups like Iraq Occupation Focus, we work to unite British and Iraqi workers in one struggle against corporate interests and imperialist war. But AWL has sought to separate union rights from the political struggle against occupation, and a leading AWL member said he would happily collaborate with the pro-occupation Labour Friends of Iraq. I don't know whether all AWL members realise or go along with their leaders in all of this. I hope not. But while it is up to them to sort out where they stand, the rest of us must firmly draw the line.

Charlie Pottins

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Monday, May 23, 2005


Socialist Worker pro-boycott

This week's Socialist Worker has an article by Steve and Hilary Rose in favour of the boycott. I've sent the following letter in reply:

Dear Socialist Worker,
Hilary and Steven Rose's article is peppered through with half-truths and downright lies.

The campaign against the proposed boycott is not being led by zionists or those who oppose the palestinian struggle. The picture painted of Israeli universities being key to the oppression of the occupied territories is well wide of the mark.

Our website hosts a large amount of articles both for and against the boycott by socialists who support the palestinian struggle. Signaturies of our founding statement which opposes not only the occupation by Isreal but also the AUT boycott include noted Palestinian acedemics.

The boycott makes no sense politically or tactically. The logic of Steve Rose's position would make more sense if he were advocating a boycott of acedemic links with US and UK universities for their involvement in the Iraq war or Chinese Universities for there systematic harrasment of the states critics.

No right minded socialist wants to see the closing of debate between academics across the world particularly when many of the academics at Haifa are active in solidarity with the palestinian struggle. As socialists, readers of a socialist newspaper we are for greater debate, not less; we are for the greater exchange of ideas(which in the end are the only thing a University actually produces) of differing opinions not less. As socialists we judge ideas, theories, articles, dissertions on the basis of what they say, not who says them and certainly not on the basis that those ideas come from a country we don't approve of.

Within the palestinians struggle an acedemic boycott makes no sense. The only beneficiaries of the closing down of ideas and debate are the reactionaries whose hegemony enforces the status quo. To punish only Isreali acedemics for the actions of the state in which they live is to open ourselves up to accusations anti-semitism. We need more links with socialist in Isreal and Palestine not boycotts.

I urge all fellow Socialist Worker readers to sign our statement at

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Friday, May 20, 2005


NUS Vote to oppose Boycott

The National Union of Students (NUS) voted yesterday to oppose the AUT boycott the motion is below, report to follow:


NUS NEC notes

1. That last month, the Association of University Teachers' Council voted to organise a boycott of Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and circulate materials calling for a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions among AUT members.
2. That, following a campaign by AUT members, this decision is due to be revisited at a special AUT Council on 26 May.

NUS NEC believes

1. That a boycott of Israeli academic institutions demonises Israel by singling out for special treatment. Israel is in occupation of the Palestinian territories; but the US and UK are in occupation of Iraq, and no-one is calling for AUT members to boycott American universities or withdraw from their jobs at British ones! Israel is guilty of human rights violations, but advocates of a boycott are not calling for a boycott of China, a totalitarian state where no democratic rights exist and the labour movement is totally suppressed.
2. That the comparison repeatedly drawn with apartheid South Africa is wrong. Israel should withdraw from the Occupied Territories and concede the Palestinians' right to a state of their own, but Israel itself is not an illegitimate state. Moreover boycotts of cultural, academic and direct trade union links hindered, not helped the fight against apartheid.
3. That, therefore, a boycott will undermine Israeli academics who support Palestinian rights, and hinder the building of bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. We oppose an academic and cultural boycott that treats Israeli Jewish thinkers as though they were responsible for the sometimes brutal actions of the Israeli government.

NUS NEC therefore resolves

1. To oppose the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
2. To immediately issue a statement to this effect.
3. To work with the AUT members campaigning to reverse their union's policy on this issue.
4. To reaffirm our policy on Israel-Palestine: Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, a fully independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, solidarity with the Palestinians and Israeli internationalists.

Proposed: Alan Clarke

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Today Programme Interview

Al Quds, the only Arab University in Jerusalem has criticised the Association of University Teachers (AUT)boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005


Motions to AUT Council 26 May

The motions to the special AUT Council meeting on 26 May are now available on the AUT website.
Thirty-one motions have been tabled from university AUT branches. The great majority would rescind the academic boycott of Israeli universities decided by AUT council on 22 April. Some couple their opposition to the boycott with support for the Palestinians' right to a state of their own and demands for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.

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Friday, May 13, 2005


Haifa and Leicester

Leicester University has cancelled a talk by Muslim lesbian feminist
Irshad Manji because of fears of hostile reaction from right-wing local
Muslims. Read the full story here

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Thursday, May 12, 2005


An Open letter to Jon Pike from 25 Council members, delegates and observers at AUT Council 2005

Dear Jon: We understand that you have submitted 25 signatures of members of AUT Council in order to call a special Council concerning the academic boycott of Israeli universities, which will now be held on on 26th May.

We do not believe that this will be popular with most AUT members: Special Council will take place in the middle of the examinations period and just two days before the annual conference of our sister union NATFHE with whom AUT is hoping to merge. Nonetheless it is of course your democratic right under the rules of the union. We would just like to make the following points:

1. The call for a boycott of Israel universities was first put to AUT Council in 2003. The motion was lost. The movers could have then tried to get a special Council convened in order to re-run the vote, for instance on the grounds that delegates had been swayed by the untrue assertion from at least one speaker in the debate that a boycott had not been asked for by either Palestinian or Israeli campaigners. However, the movers refrained from trying our members' patience with such tactics. On the contrary, they fully adhered to Standing Order 18 which states "When any matter shall have been determined by an Ordinary Meeting of Council, it shall not be re-opened at the Ordinary meeting of the Council immediately following". They have patiently waited for two years before bringing the matter back to Council.

2. We very much regret that there was not a full debate on the topic. This, however, was not the movers' doing but was the ruling of the President who was in the chair. With hindsight, less time should have been allocated for debate on less controversial issues, such as the NATFHE merger, over the previous two days. By Friday morning we were running out of time, and if a full debate had taken place on this issue, other important motions would have fallen off the agenda. The President had a very difficult job to do and while we have our criticisms of her chairing, we believe she acted in good faith. There was certainly no conspiracy to rush the motions through since the Executive did not support most of them!

3. Some members have complained that observant Jews were prevented from contributing to the debate by its timing close to the Jewish Sabbath and Passover. For the record it was Sue Blackwell, a supporter of the boycott, who brought up the issue of the Sabbath at the first meeting of Council Agenda Committee on 17th March, but after discussion CAC felt the best that could be done was to ensure that the debate would be concluded by Friday lunchtime. Only one would-be delegate had contacted AUT prior to this CAC meeting saying that she would not be able to attend council because of its proximity to Passover, and this appears to have been a problem with Council as a whole and not just the Friday.

4. We were informed by the Executive that Bar-Ilan University had asked to send a speaker on the Thursday, saying that she was unable to attend on the Friday due to the Passover.

As trade unionists we consider it totally improper that a member of Bar-Ilan university management should expect to address Council, especially considering that repeated requests for a fringe meeting with ordinary Palestinian lecturers, students and activists had earlier been rejected (see motion no. 80). The Executive were quite right to point out to Bar-Ilan that AUT does not allow any external speakers to address debates on motions.

5. The supporters of the boycott motions have a wide range of political views on Israel. Shereen Benjamin, who proposed two of the motions, began by stating that she supported the right of Israel to exist. This has been conveniently overlooked by opponents of the motions, while remarks made by Sue Blackwell in a personal capacity have been misrepresented as if they were AUT policy, part of the motions, or representative of the views of all supporters of the boycott. They are not.

6. To our knowledge there was no Palestinian delegate at Council and only one observer. We demand that AUT Executive invite a representative of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees to address Special Council: not with regard to any specific motion but to inform delegates about the real situation of Palestinian students and academic staff. If the Executive can find an Israeli trade union in Higher Education which has taken a stand against the occupation of the Palestinian territories, we would welcome an invitation to their representative too. We do not welcome an invitation to representatives of the management of any university in any country, including the UK.

We look forward to seeing you at Special Council and to having a full, frank and cordial debate in the best traditions of trade union democracy.


Shereen Benjamin, Birmingham

Gargi Bhattacharyya, Birmingham and Executive

Sue Blackwell, Birmingham

Paul Brown, Dundee

Tony Chabot, Birmingham

Eileen Cook, Abertay

Ruth Dar, UCL

Adam Darwish, Sussex

Steven French, Leeds

Martyn Gardiner, Portsmouth

Rumy Hasan, Sussex

Beck Hurst, UCL

Nick James, Leicester

Alan Harrison, Brunel

Les Levidow, Open

Carlo Morelli, Dundee

Adel Nasser, Manchester

Martin Ogilvie, Birmingham

Lynn Pevy, Portsmouth

Malcolm Povey, Leeds

Martin Ralph, Liverpool

Gavin Reid, Leeds

Jennifer Toomey, Newcastle

Sean Wallis, UCL

Geoff Williams, UCL

Melanie Wilson, Manchester

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John Strawson article in Solidarity

John Strawson from the University of East London has an article in this weeks Solidarity newspaper against the Boycott. You can also comment on his article by clicking here

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Articles by Robert Fine, Steve Rose and Jon Pike

This weeks Solidarity newspaper has excellent, conflicting articles by Robert Fine, Steve Rose and Jon Pike, read them all here. You should make ue of the websites facility to post comments which often lead to lively debate.comments

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Three letters from Israel/Palestine

Reuven Kaminer: Letter from Jerusalem - against the boycott
Omar Barghouti and Lisa Taraki: Palestinian views for the boycott
Ran Greenstein: a South African anti-apartheid view against the boycott

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Haifa University and the Pappe affair

Read the full story in an article by Stephen Howe on the Open Democracy website.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Motion Passed by Warwick AUT today

This motion was passed by Warwick University AUT today

The AUT should
a. reject all existing proposals to boycott Israeli universities;
b. give solidarity to Palestinian academics in the occupied territories and support their academic freedom;
c. not recognise the College of Judea and Samaria in the Occupied Territories as a legitimate university.
Robert Fine, Sociology Istvan Pogany, Law
(passed 10/05/05)

Here are some excerpts from statement supporting this motion by Robert Fine

I too would like to see the top brass of Israeli universities coming out more strongly against the occupation, but we don't call for a boycott of British Universities for not denouncing the war in Iraq or not denouncing internment in Northern Ireland. In any event, I do not think that an academic boycott of Israeli universities is correct in principle.

Boycotts of universities always undermine academic freedom. The university sector in Israel is currently under attack from the right wing for being too liberal, particularly on the Palestine question. Many academics need our support. There is much original work being undertaken on history and politics, which undermines many of the reactionary ideas which are used to justify the occupation, settlements and the wall.

Academics have little power in the political arena. What we can do is, through teaching, research, publication and broadcasting, attempt to mobilise ideas for freedom. Working with people positively seems far more likely to help create conditions that will end the occupation than the negative boycott.

The boycott is a call to do nothing about the occupation at all. It plays directly into the hands of the right wing in Israel as well as a growing body of antisemitism in Europe.

I was an activist in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The analogy between South Africa and Israel is superficial, but in any case the same mistake was made in South Africa as is now being recommended in Israel. In Israel higher education is quite integrated. In South Africa universities were not very integrated, but like Israeli universities exercised a degree of independence and academic freedom.

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Debate the boycott on Workers Liberty website

A lively debate has begun on the Workers' Liberty website in response to this article in the newspaper Solidarity .
Please go over there and join in the debate. You can post any results/progress report using the comments feature below or by emailing us.

Education Education unions Israel/Palestine Solidarity 3/72, 28 April 2005
On 22 April, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), at its conference, voted to impose an academic boycott on two Israeli universities. The decision has led to legal objections, on grounds of which the AUT has told its members to hold off from any action until they receive guidelines from the union; and to demands by some AUT members for a special conference to reconsider.
Leading supporters of the 22 April decision have long argued for a complete academic boycott of all Israeli universities.

David Hirsh, a sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths College London, coordinated a letter to the Guardian opposing the boycott proposal. He explains his views here.

"The picture I have of the debate at the AUT conference, which I'm trying to confirm, is unbelievable. There were very emotional speeches in favour of the boycott, and the president ruled that, due to lack of time, there would be no speeches against.

We agree with the pro-boycotters on opposition to some of what the Israeli state does - opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, to the sometimes brutal behaviour of the Israeli government and army, and to the way in which academic freedom in Palestine is severely limited by the occupation.

We don't agree with them on how to oppose those things. We are for making stronger links between Palestinian and Israeli and British and global academia. At City University London there is something called the Olive Tree Project, where Israeli and Palestinian students are being taught side by side under scholarships. We're interested in that kind of engagement.

We want to do joint academic work with people who are opposing the occupation. We want to link with the sizeable section of Israeli academics, thinkers, teachers, artists, and musicians who are against the occupation and against racism.

I was speaking the other day to an Israeli academic who is also an activist. His position is that the boycott is lazy. The work that we have to do in building solidarity is harmed by a boycott, which may be designed to make us feel better, but won't help.

The boycott is ineffective, and it is tactically counterproductive. But beyond that the question is, why has the AUT chosen to boycott Israeli universities and no other universities in the world?
A legitimate reason might be if Israeli academia was the least free in the world, or Israel was responsible for the worst human rights abuses in the world. That is not the case. I could list a whole number of much less academically free universities, and much more serious human rights abuses.
So why has the AUT chosen to boycott Jewish academics in Israel because of the actions of their state, and no other academics in the world?

We are setting up a website called Engage as a forum for discussing, organising, and educating about the issues concerned with the boycott.
Engage has three central elements:

  • to oppose the idea of an academic or cultural boycott of Israel;
  • to encourage and facilitate positive links between Israeli, Palestinian, British, and global academia;
  • to stand up against anti-semitism in our universities, in our unions, and in our student unions.
Opposing the sometimes brutal actions of the Israeli army is not anti-semitic; but sometimes anti-Zionism is anti-semitic.

Following the events last month at the conference of the National Union of Students and the [AUT] boycott decision, it is time that this issue was raised clearly. "

The case for a boycott

The British Committee for Universities of Palestine, a body campaigning for the boycott, has published this statement, written by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, to comment on the AUT decision.

The Association of University Teachers (AUT) in the UK voted in its Council meeting today to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities and to disseminate to all its chapters our Call for Boycott of Israeli academic institutions| Finally, boycotting Israeli institutions, as a morally and politically sound response to Israel's crimes, is on the mainstream agenda in the west; and no one can ignore it now|

The taboo has been shattered, at last. From now on, it will be acceptable to compare Israel's apartheid system to its South African predecessor. As a consequence, proposing practical measures to punish Israeli institutions for their role in the racist and colonial policies of their state will no longer be considered beyond the pale. Israeli academic institutions will no longer be able to share in the crime while enjoying international cooperation and support.
Most importantly, Israel will start losing its so far assured impunity, its exceptional status as a state above the law, a country that considers itself unaccountable before the international community of nations.

Click here for full text and other material.

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AUT Special Conference to be held 26th May 2005

Here is the statement from the AUT on the special conference to be held on 26th May:

'Following the receipt of a request from 25 members of council, notice is given that a special meeting of AUT council will be held on Thursday 26 May 2005 in central London. The sole business of this special council meeting will be to have a full debate on proposals to boycott Israeli universities. Motions for this council meeting should be received at Egmont House by 12 noon on Wednesday 18 May.'

There is a model motion on this site here: Model AUT Motion
This much shorter motion was passed by Warwick AUT today

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David Hirsh Letter to the Guardian against the boycott

Read the full letter and others on the Guardian Web Page

Dear Guardian,

We oppose Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and we support the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state alongside Israel. We think, however, that proposals by some members of the Association of University Teachers for a boycott of Israeli academia would be counter-productive.

The campaign for the academic boycott treats all academics as though they were responsible for government policy - which they are not. The latest proposal contains a clause which is intended to get round this problem by excluding from the boycott "conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies". This would mean that Israeli academics would first have to affirm their 'anti-Zionist' credentials before being allowed to function as members of the global academic community.

But there is no agreed definition of the word 'Zionism'. Some people define it as a form of racism. Others understand it as a Jewish national liberation movement. Others consider themselves Zionists if they support the right of Israel not to be conquered.

We oppose the proposal that academics should be subjected a political test. Does anybody suggest that American physicists should be excluded from the academic community if they do not repudiate Guantanamo Bay? Does anybody suggest that Chinese historians should be excluded if they oppose democracy? Does anybody suggest that Muslim mathematicians should be excluded unless they publicly repudiate the attacks of September 11? These kinds of demands would destroy the principles of openness, free speech and community that should define academia.

But the current proposal to make a distinction between good Israelis and bad Israelis is a tactical move: the boycott campaign really wants a total boycott of Israeli academia.
Last year there was a call by the religious right in Israel to boycott Israeli academics who had signed a statement in support of Israeli pilots who were refusing to bomb targets in the occupied territories. A government minister spoke in favour of a ban on the books of these academics. How would we support Israeli academics that come under such attacks if there is a boycott on links with Israeli academia?

Who should be teaching Israeli students? Do we demand that Israeli academics that are against the occupation should leave Israel and teach somewhere else? Do we demand that Arab students who are studying at Israeli universities should leave, rather than fight for equal rights?
We should be making more links, not fewer, with the Israeli academics who are doing good work and who are resisting the racist culture of the Israeli right. Formally, this question is dealt with by the good Israeli / bad Israeli formulation of the latest proposal, but this would create more problems than it addresses.

What effect would this boycott have on UK academics - and particularly Jewish academics? It would put UK Jewish academics under pressure to declare themselves 'anti-Zionist'. And what will happen to those who refuse?

David Hirsh, Goldsmiths College, London

Email from David Hirsh to those who supported his letter to the Guardian

Please have a look at this on Harry's place, which is my attempt to counter the argument that the pro-boycotters published in the Guardian of 20 April.

Please present our arguments to your own AUT delegates to the meeting this week.
A number of you have said that it might be useful to have a dayschool or a conference on the issue of the academic boycott. This might also address the issue of how to make positive links with Israeli and Palestinian academics and institutions. It might also address issues of antisemitism in British academia. I would be interested to hear people's views on this possibility. Who volunteers to organise it?

Just one apology - the Guardian agreed to print the statement late on Monday - and asked me to provide them with an edited version and choose five names 'ten minutes ago'. I hope people think the edited version did reflect the longer statement. But my picking of names was arbitrary, and I regret that I did not pick two or three of the eminent women academics who supported the statement. How do journalists do it? We have 5 months to write something - they have 5 minutes.

Best Wishes and Thanks
David Hirsh
Sociology Department
Goldsmiths College
London SE14 6NW
+4420 7919 7730

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Introductory Statement

For Palestinian rights; against the proposed academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions

Signed by (all in a personal capacity):
  • Tobias Abse (Goldsmiths College, University of London)
  • Camila Bassi (Sheffield Hallam University)
  • Andrea Brady (Brunel University)
  • Ofer Cassif (LSE and Ahva Academic College)
  • David Degani (Technion - Israel Institute of Technology)
  • Robert Fine (Warwick University)
  • Catherine Fletcher (Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • David Hirsh (Goldsmiths College, University of London)
  • Margo Huxley (University of Sheffield)
  • Alan Johnson (Edge Hill College of Higher Education)
  • David Merhav (Haifa University)
  • Jon Pike (Open University)
  • Phil Semp (University of Teesside)
  • John Solomos (City University London)
  • Yair Timna (student, Haifa University)
  • Matthew Waites (Sheffield Hallam University)
  • David Wood (University of Newcastle upon Tyne)
  • Nir Zeid (student, Tel-Aviv University)

As democrats, socialists, advocates of Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, and supporters of the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state of their own, alongside Israel, we call on British academics to reject the moves for a renewed academic boycott of Israel due to be debated at the council of the Association of University Teachers on 20 April 2005.

We urge them to consider the arguments against the boycott from Israeli academics who criticise and oppose Israeli government policy.

Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University, for example, has pointed out the inconsistent standards in singling out Israeli universities for boycott.

"Some of the boycotters come from countries that are also responsible for much oppression and suffering... [and] Israel could not carry out its policies without the ongoing support of the United States..." Should we boycott US universities too? Why is Israel singled out? The new moves for a boycott attempt to refine it, proposing boycott of only three of Israel's eight universities. But boycotts do not make good precision tactics, and in this case can only feed into the long-standing and high-profile campaigns for a general boycott of all Israelis and all Israeli goods.

Neve Gordon also points out: "Israeli universities have been under an unprecedented assault by the Sharon government... An academic boycott will only strengthen [the Israeli right], and in this way assist the destruction of academic freedom in Israel".

Gordon himself has been denounced by the Israeli right as "a fanatic anti- Semite from the monochromatic (Red) Department of Politics at Ben-Gurion University." To the argument that it is the "institution that will be punished for not taking an institutional stand on the illegality of the occupation", Gordon replies: "It is precisely the institution that enables Israeli professors - regardless of their political affiliation - to voice their views, suggesting that an assault on the university is in fact an assault on its faculty...

"To fight the anti-intellectual atmosphere within Israel, local academics need as much support as they can get from their colleagues abroad. A boycott will only weaken the elements within Israeli society that are struggling against the assault on the universities..." Far from helping the Palestinians, a boycott will hinder the democratic dialogue and accommodation on which prospects for a free and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel depend.

To add your signature, email Camila Bassi.

Other material on the boycott

AUT statement on the decision, on 22 April, to boycott two Israeli universities

Response from Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Lynne Segal, Irene Bruegel, Richard Kuper)

Further letters to the Guardian from Mary Kaldor and others

Letter from Eve Garrard

The pro-boycott argument: British Committee for Universities of Palestine

Education Guardian report on the campaign for the boycott

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Haifa University Response to the proposed Boycott

The University of Haifa is saddened and not a little outraged by the utterly unjust and unjustifiable decision of the AUT and by its attempt to erect barriers and obstruct the flow of ideas within the international academic community.

In lieu of evidence to support the singling out of Israeli academia, the authors of this campaign have chosen to adopt a three-year old urban legend.

We are astounded by the fact that the AUT never requested our response prior to adopting their resolution, and did not allow our position to be presented by members of the AUT who are familiar with the facts. The case against Israeli academia, in general, and the University of Haifa in particular, is devoid of empirical evidence and violates the principle of due process. Driven by a prior and prejudicial assumption of guilt, the AUT has refused to confuse itself with facts.

In actual fact, during the past few years, Dr. Pappe has transgressed all common ethical standards of academic life. Yet, despite his conduct, the University of Haifa has demonstrated extraordinary tolerance. One of his colleagues did indeed lodge a complaint with the internal faculty disciplinary committee. The complaint focused on Dr. Pappe's unethical behavior towards his peers and his efforts to disbar them from international forums for daring to contradict his views. However, Dr. Pappe was never summoned by the disciplinary committee as the committee's chairperson decided not to pursue the complaint. Moreover, and contrary to Dr. Pappe's claim, the university made no attempt to expel him.

As to the now too famous thesis that provoked this altercation, an independent committee was asked to examine the validity of the quotes that were used as the "scientific basis" for the highly controversial charges proffered in this thesis, authored by Mr. Teddy Katz. After a thorough examination, the committee members concluded that, in fact, the quotes in the written text did not match the taped comments of the interviews and that the text was grossly distorted. Therefore, they disqualified this MA thesis.

These findings, it is important to note, matched a court decision issued on the same matter. As Dr. Pappe did not approve of the committee's decision, despite the undeniable discrepancies between the text and the taped interviews, he reacted by calling on the academic community to boycott the members of this committee and the University of Haifa. Despite these violations of academic collegiality and ethics Dr. Pappe never faced disciplinary proceedings nor was his tenured status in any way endangered.

Although there is always more work to do, the University of Haifa is proud of its record of Arab-Jewish cooperation and reconciliation, both on campus and in the community. Twenty percent of our student body are Arab citizens of the State of Israel, and the many Arab faculty members at Haifa include departmental chairs and a Dean. We will continue our efforts to further Jewish-Arab reconciliation, despite politically motivated initiatives to muzzle free speech and the academic discourse.

We are puzzled by the fact that despite the deluge of abuses of academic freedom throughout the world, the AUT has chosen to focus upon a politically spurious charge and, on the basis of false allegations, single out the University of Haifa for condemnation. The University of Haifa calls upon the AUT to rescind its resolution; transparently discriminatory and based on a complete distortion of the facts, it is far more embarrassing to the AUT than to the University. We also call upon the academic community in the United Kingdom to reject this politically motivated abuse of the fundamental principles of academic discourse."

The Haifa website has a number of links to academics offering solidarity against the boycott (not necessarily pro-Palestinian):

Professor Emanuele Ottolenghi, Oxford University
Professor Stanley Dubinsky, University of South Carolina
Prof. Loren Baritz, State University of New York
Petition To Rescind The Boycott Of Israeli Universities
American Professors Against the Boycott
Professor Lenn Goodman Vanderbilt University
New York Academy of Sciences
Professor Shalom Lappin, King's College
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize Laureate
University College Provost responds to Israel boycott
American Assocaition of University Professors
Statement by Jon Pike (Open University and others)
Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis University
American Association of Jewish Studies
Professor David Jacobson, Brown University

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NATFHE’s policy on relations with Israeli academic institutions

NATFHE’s policy on Palestine / Israel and relations with Israeli academic institutions. Letter by Paul Mackney, General Secretary 11 May 2003

I am writing to you concerning the evolution of NATFHE’s position in regard to Palestine and Israel, following decisions taken by the NEC meeting on 2 May and at our Annual National Conference lat the end of May.

On 13 April 2002, in the wake of the Israeli incursions into the Palestinian West Bank towns, the NATFHE NEC passed a resolution which concluded, ‘NATFHE NEC further resolves that all UK institutions of Higher and Further Education be urged immediately to review – with a view to severing – any academic links they may have with Israel. Such links should be restored only after full withdrawal of all Israeli forces, opening of negotiations to implements UN resolutions and the restoration of full access to all Palestinian HE and FE institutions.’ This policy, which we sought to implement by asking branches to approach their institutions requesting that they review their links with Israeli academic institutions with a view to severing them, has now been reviewed by the NATFHE NEC in the light of changing circumstances.

NATFHE Head Office has had no reports of substantive take up of this policy over the last year, although it has aroused significant press interest. There have been a small number of resignations and some new recruits in response to our policy on Palestine / Israel, although ‘boycott’ has sometimes been the peg on which objections and resignations have hung. However, the debate about the rights and wrongs of ‘boycott’ (never our word, but foisted on us), has obscured the real issues of the rights and wrongs of the Israeli actions which led to the original NATFHE position.

The situation in Palestine / Israel has significantly worsened since the policy was adopted, with even greater brutality on the part of the Israeli forces, the hardening of attitudes by a re-elected Sharon government and for the first time the threat of actual starvation among sections of the Palestinian population, in the context of a much more all embracing international crisis. On the other hand, in however flawed a way, as part of their attempt to legitimise the attack on Iraq and set it within the notion of a wider settlement in the region, the US administration supported by the British government, have put forward a ‘road map’ to Palestinian statehood. Meanwhile a range of voices sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, from Education International to individuals like Naom Chomsky, have called for keeping the lines open to Israeli academics. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign distinguish between academic and economic boycott, and focus their work on the latter. An EI mission to Palestine and Israel last autumn called for unions outside the region to have dialogue with the teacher unions in Palestine and in Israel, and to promote dialogue between the two. The anti-war movement has made a strong and clear link between the Iraq crisis and justice for Palestine; has played a prominent part in the anti-war campaign, and the General Secretary spoke at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally on 17 May.

The NATFHE NEC believe that it is now time to move on, including making common cause with other trade unions in the UK and within EI, and supporting bodies like the Friends of Bir Zeit University (FOBZU). We are still waiting for the situation to improve sufficiently for FOBZU to engage with its ‘right to education’ work, which we have agreed to support. I reported on the possibility of a higher education trade unionists delegation to Palestine / Israel, funded by WUS, and this will be part of a process of re-focussing our work. These are not ‘soft options’: building contacts and supporting dialogue and the re-building of Palestinian education are hard and painstaking tasks, which few from outside the region have worked hard to make limited progress. Dialogue with Israeli and Palestinian academics has never been easy and attitudes generally will have hardened, and despair increased, in the last year. There is a job of work to do within EI to get it to implement its existing policies and to improve on them.

In summary, the NEC believe that NATFHE policy should be re-focussed:
1) The NEC believes we should now move on from the policy of ‘reviewing links’ enunciated in the April 2002 resolution.

2) The NEC has agreed that NATFHE should pursue a policy based on active support for Palestinian post-school education including work with FOBZU on the Palestinian ‘right to education’ campaign’; promotion of links with Palestinian and Israeli unions, and exploration of possible twinning with Palestinian and Israeli universities; work within EI, including making use of the forthcoming EI World Congress in July 2004; participation in a possible forthcoming WUS mission; work within the UK political and trade union framework to press for the ‘road map’ to the establishment of a Palestinian state is actually put into effect. (The AUT agreed similar policies at its summer Council meeting, and it is hoped that we can work closely with them on these issues.)

3) The NEC have agreed that NATFHE affiliates to the Trade Union Friends of Palestine and/or Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

In the light of the scale of the current international crisis, the General Secretary made a printed report on international developments to delegates to the Annual National Conference, which touched on some of these issues and NATFHE’s work in the Stop the War campaign.

If you have any queries relating to the issues raised in this circular, or if you or your colleagues wish to help carry this work forward, please contact Paul Bennett at Head Office

Yours sincerely
Paul Mackney
General Secretary
11 May 2003

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Model Motion for use in Union Branches

Use this model motion in union branches. Email any results to

We oppose an academic boycott of Israeli universities, and will instead work to maximise links between Israeli, Palestinian, and British academics. We will support academic freedom in the Occupied Territories and for Arab and dissident Jewish academics inside Israel, knowing these to be under pressure from the current Israeli government.

We believe that a boycott will be counterproductive in terms of putting pressure on the Israeli government, counterproductive for the democratic dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians needed for progress, and counterproductive for enlarging academic freedom.

Moreover, by singling out Israeli universities when universities in many other countries are equally or more docile towards governments equally or more repressive both internally and externally, the boycott feeds into a demonisation of Israel with implications of hostility to Jews everywhere who instinctively, if often critically, identify with Israel. We will stand strongly against all anti-semitism, including anti-semitism under cover of hostility to Israel.

Criticism of and opposition to Israeli government policy is not anti-semitic.
We are for the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli state from the Occupied Territories. We support a fully independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. We believe that both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples have a right to their own state.

We believe Israel should come to a generous settlement with the Palestinian refugees that is a true compromise and can be mutually agreed.

While we understand that the Palestinians are in a desperate situation, and recognise that they have a right to defend themselves in the face of Israeli army attacks, we oppose the Islamist suicide bombers who kill themselves and Jewish civilians. We oppose Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who are fighting not just for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories but for the destruction of Israel and the creation of a theocratic state.

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