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New Israeli boycott?

by: Yaakov Lappin, Ynetnews - Last updated: 2006-05-11

NATFHE website

NATFHE website

The British university lecturers' union, NATFHE, may impose an anti-Semitic boycott of Israeli academic institutions if a resolution calling for UK academics to cut ties with Israelis is passed later this month, Dr Jon Pike, a philosophy professor at the Open University, told Ynetnews.

Pike, who helped lead efforts to overturn a boycott of two Israeli universities last year by a different British union, said that the new motion "doesn't say which universities (it wants boycotted), so we must presume that it refers to all the universities in Israel."

"There are a few people behind this, loosely organized, and it may go through," he said. Comparing the resolution to previous attempts to exclude Israeli academics in Britain, Pike added: "Does that amount to anti-Semitism? I think it does, in effect, if not intent."

The resolution in question calls on university lecturers to "note continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices."

It then "invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies."

Writing in the website of Engage, an organization of Left-wing British academics who say they have launched an "anti-racist campaign against anti Semitism," Pike blasted the motion. "Let’s be stone cold clear about this: what the proposors of this resolution want is union endorsement for actions that are, in effect, anti-Semitic," he wrote.

"It is clear, once again, that the proposers of the motion think it is appropriate to introduce a McCarthyism test," he said, adding that the motion was "inaccurate, dishonest, and in conflict with NATFHE's constitution."

"And it is clear that they want to endorse a private, covert, boycott," Pike warned.

Pike compared the motion to the actions of a Manchester-based academic, Mona Baker, who dismissed Israelis from her academic journal.

"They aim to endorse the actions of Mona Baker, who sacked members of the editorial board of her journal because they were affiliated to Israeli Universities. We know that Mona Baker's policy is, in effect, anti-Semitic: she doesn't want to have contact with any individuals who are affiliated with Israeli institutions, and those people will largely be Jews," Pike explained.

"The gutlessness is extraordinary. We know that the proposers of the resolution want a full-on official boycott of all Israeli institutions, and we know that they daren't subject their argument for this to democratic or legal scrutiny," he added.

Pike, who belongs to the Association of University Teachers (AUT) union, told Ynetnews that due a coming merger between the AUT and NATFHE, the motion "won't be the policy of the merged union, and we merge this summer."

Speaking to Ynetnews, Ronnie Fraser of the Academic Friends of Israel organization, said that the organizers of the current attempted boycott against Israel took care to avoid potential legal challenges.

"This year’s motion is worded in the form of a 'silent boycott' so that individuals will not be detected if they carry out a boycott nor they hope will the union be responsible for promoting a boycott," Fraser said.

"We are responding in the usual way, but it will be very difficult to overturn it on the floor of the conference if it gets that far, as the majority are left-wing activists who do not believe that Israel has the right to exist, and that some criticism of Israel's policies can be anti-Semitic," Fraser said.

"Any boycott call that is based on whether Israeli academics support their government’s policy is, like the AUT call last year, discriminatory and effectively an anti-Semitic act. I would expect my union NATFHE to recognize the problem and act immediately, yet as in the past they have so far failed to do anything," he added.

In response to the planned boycott the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) – Bar Ilan University called on NATFHE to reconsider its decision and to withdraw the motion at once.

"The NATFHE motion flouts the values of Academic Freedom and is anti-democratic," IAB said in a statement.

Reproduced with permission: Ynetnews