[Boycott - Israel Supporters]
Nobel laureate cancels UK trip over Israel boycott
Debbie Andalo, Education Guardian
24 May 2007
An academic and Nobel laureate has cancelled a planned visit to a London university because of what he perceives to be "a widespread anti-Israel and anti-semitic current in British opinion".
Steven Weinberg, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, had been invited to Imperial College in July to speak in honour of a Pakistani physicist, Abdus Salam, and to deliver a talk at a conference on particle physics.
Boycotting Israel indicated a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than anti-semitism.
Prof.Steven Weinberg, University of Texas
But today in a letter to his host at Imperial, Michael Duff, Prof Weinberg said he was withdrawing from the trip.
In the letter, the professor said his decision was triggered by an agreement by the National Union of Journalists at its national conference to boycott Israeli products.
He wrote: "I know that some will say that these boycotts are directed only against Israel, rather than generally against Jews.
"But given the history of the attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicated a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than anti-semitism."
A spokeswoman for Imperial said it was "very sad" about the professor's decision.
Prof Weinberg said the only other reason he could imagine for the boycott was the NUJ's "desire to pander to the growing Muslim minority in Britain".
This is the second time Prof Weinberg, who won the Nobel prize for physics in 1979, has cancelled a visit to a UK university because of Israeli boycotts.
In 2006 he called off a trip to a conference at the University of Durham following what he saw as a boycott of Israeli academics by the then lecturers' union Natfhe.
His decision comes a week before members of the University and College Union are to call for an academic boycott of Israel at their inaugural annual conference.
Academics are also expected to debate whether anti-semitism has become acceptable on UK campuses and whether members should be balloted before any decisions are taken on academic freedom.
The motion calling for an Israeli boycott has been laid down jointly by the University of Brighton and the University of East London. It condemns the "complicity of Israeli academia in the [Palestinian] occupation, which has provoked a call from the Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions".
The union is being urged to agree that "passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic".
The motion calls on members to consider the "moral implications of existing proposed links with Israeli academic institutions".
The issue of boycotting Israeli academics and institutions has been a standing feature of the annual conferences of the two former lecturers' unions - the Association of University Teachers and Natfhe - before they merged to form the UCU last year.
An AUT motion was passed in 2005, but it caused such controversy that it had to hold another special meeting at which it was rejected.
Natfhe has supported boycotts in the past. Last year members agreed to continue the boycott, but the policy was dissolved when the union merged to form the UCU only hours later.
Since Natfhe's motion was dissolved, UCU has no policy on the Israeli academic boycott.
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