ISRAEL: Alarm at threat of British boycott

Israeli academics are alarmed by the recurring threat of a boycott by British academics of Israel's higher education institutions, implicit in a motion passed at the recent congress of the University and College Union in Manchester.

The motion issued an "invitation to colleagues... to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions" and proposed distribution of material intended to promote "discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued educational links with Israeli academic institutions".

But Anthony Julius, a lawyer representing certain groups of UCU members, said in a letter to union General Secretary Sally Hunt, that the resolution comprised "the opening stages of a campaign of boycott. It would be dishonest to suggest otherwise".

Yet some Israeli academics say that since the closure of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) last November, there had been "no Israeli response" to the pro-boycott motions. Ofir Frankel, former Executive Director of the IAB, said the organisation had been closed down "because the universities don't see it as a priority".

The stipulation in the UCU motion that Jews ("Israeli colleagues") answer questions on their views as a precondition to continued collaboration with UCU members is seen here as a precursor to an academic boycott.

Frankel said that if a boycott were imposed, it would affect more than 80% of British universities with ties to Israeli universities.

Professor Jonathan Rynhold is a lecturer in the department of political studies at Bar-Ilan University who was formerly in the IAB and speaks eloquently against the proposed boycott.
Rynhold says that singling out Israel just because "people don't like the country" and attempts to de-legitimise Israel were "completely counterproductive". He said a boycott would affect young academics who would not know if a paper was being rejected by a professional journal because of the boycott or because it was no good.