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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.
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.
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