[Boycott - Academic]
Presenting Israeli lobby as neutral party in Academic Boycott - letter to The Guardian
Boycott Israel Campaign - www.inminds.co.uk
6 June 2007
Letter to The Guardian newspaper:
In three separate reports, over two days, on the academic boycott (James Meikle 30 May 2007, James Meikle 31 May 2007, and Debbie Andalo 31 May 2007) your journalists have repeatedly failed to mention that the so-called "International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom", which they present as a neutral party in the debate over the academic boycott, is in reality an israeli lobby group tasked with stopping the boycott. It was set up by Israels most right-wing university, Bar-Ilan, after the university came under international condemnation for opening a campus in the illegal settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, and thereby breaking international law. More recently the university has backed the Israeli army in blocking access to education for Palestinian students. It supports the army's policies of keeping Palestinian students out of Israeli campuses and also of preventing Palestinians students from Gaza from attending classes in the West Bank. Such sweeping bans amounts to collective punishment which is illegal under the Geneva Convention. Shouldn't your readers be told this?
Your repeated publication of misleading information, in presenting an Israeli lobby group as an impartial body, is unforgivable and has tainted the whole debate on the academic boycott. An Israeli newspaper (Ynet) reported that the day after you published your misinformation pieces, they were reproduced in "PR booklets" by pro-Israel activists and handed out at the UCU convention in Bournemouth to convince "attendees to cancel their decision."
The University and College Union (UCU) has done Britain proud by standing up for Palestinian students who are frequently shot on their way to school, please show a little fairness in your reporting.
The Press Complains Commission code of conduct demands that "The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information". It also states that "mis-leading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published.".
I ask that you follow the code of conduct and publish an immediate apology for misleading your readers.
The articles referenced above are reproduced below.
Lecturers back boycott of Israel
University lecturers today threatened to provoke international condemnation over academic freedom by forcing their union into a year-long debate over boycotting work with Israeli universities.
Delegates at the first conference of the new University and College Union in Bournemouth voted by more than three to two to recommend boycotts in protest at Israel's "40-year occupation" of Palestinian land and to condemn the "complicity" of Israeli academics.
The conference motion said there should be "a comprehensive and consistent boycott" of all Israeli academic institutions, as called for by Palestinian trade unions.
Delegates voted by 158 to 99 in favour of the motion. The union's leadership must now circulate calls from Palestinians for a boycott of Israeli universities to all branches throughout the country.
Tom Hickey, a Brighton University academic and union national executive member, who led the call for stronger moves towards a boycott, said: "There will be adverse effects on individuals, but this is not targeting individuals or trying to break contacts with them."
He said the vote in favour of a boycott call to all branches reflected "the deep concern" people have about the issue. A boycott could involve lecturers refusing to collaborate on research contracts with Israeli academics and refusing to work with journals published by Israeli companies.
However, Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the union, said: "I do not believe a boycott is supported by a majority of (the 120,000) UCU members; nor do I believe that members see it as a priority for the union."
Ofir Frankel, a spokesman for the Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, said: "This was a disappointment. We see it as discriminatory and counterproductive. It will make British academia look a little less serious." He added that it would also damage existing links between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs.
The decision was greeted with outrage among Jewish groups and activists. Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: "The UCU boycott motion is an assault on academic freedom. While the vast majority of academics do not support a boycott, this decision damages the credibility of British academia as a whole."
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "Now is the time to strengthen the kinds of relationships that will bring all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict together and, in this country, create a better understanding of the complex issues through that engagement. We call upon the Union's leadership and all members who are rightly outraged by the decision to work towards a reversal of this policy."
Mitch Simmons, campaigns director for the Union of Jewish Students, said: "Academic freedom is part of the fabric of modern society. The exchange of information and the advancement of human knowledge should have no borders. Disappointingly, it seems that no value can be left unviolated by the proposers of this motion."
During the debate, which lasted well over an hour, Michael Cushman, from the London School of Economics, said: "Universities are to Israel what the springboks were to South Africa: the symbol of their national identity."
Israel wanted to claim it was a normal democratic state and universities were integral to that, Mr Cushman said. "[But] it is not a normal state. They are not normal universities.
"Senior academics move from universities into ministries and back again," he said.
"Regularly, lecturers take up their commissions in the Israeli Defence Force as reserve officers to go into the West Bank to dominate, control and shoot the population."
But Mary Davis, from London Metropolitan University, said there were "many, many academics ... who oppose Israeli government policy tooth and nail ... This notion that Israeli academia is the Springbok of Israel is just plain wrong and foolish."
Lecturers vote for boycott of Israeli universities
University lecturers threatened yesterday to provoke international condemnation by forcing their union into a year-long debate over boycotting work with Israeli universities.
Delegates at the first conference of the new University and College Union in Bournemouth voted by 158 to 99 for "a comprehensive and consistent boycott" of all Israeli academic institutions, as called for by Palestinian trade unions in response to Israel's "40-year occupation" of Palestinian land.
The union's leadership must now circulate calls from Palestinians for a boycott of Israeli universities to all branches throughout the country.
Tom Hickey, a Brighton University academic and union executive member, who led the move, said: "There will be adverse effects on individuals, but this is not targeting individuals or trying to break contacts with them." The vote reflected "the deep concern people have".
A boycott might involve refusing to work with journals published by Israeli companies or collaborate on research contracts with Israeli academics.
But Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the union, said: "I do not believe a boycott is supported by a majority of [120,000] UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it as a priority for the union."
The boycott was also opposed by the education minister, Bill Rammell. He said: "The UK government fully supports academic freedom and is firmly against any academic boycotts of Israel or Israeli academics. Whilst I appreciate the independence of the UCU, I am very disappointed that the union has decided to pass a motion which encourages its members to consider boycotting Israeli academics and education institutions. I profoundly believe this does nothing to promote the Middle East peace process."
The issue has been hotly debated over the past five years by academics within the Association of University Teachers and the University and College Lecturers' Union, which merged into the UCU last year.
In 2005, a vote for a boycott by the AUT was rejected at a special meeting later that year. Natfhe continued to support boycotts at its conference last year, but the policy was dissolved when it merged to form the UCU very soon afterwards.
Previous attempts at a boycott have caused international outcry, especially in Israel and the US. When the AUT ratified a boycott in February 2005, the story hit the front pages in Europe, North America and Asia. During the ensuing weeks, a delegation of Israeli academics put pressure on the union by touring UK campuses. Twenty one Nobel prizewinners, including Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel, wrote to the Guardian, stating: "Academic freedom has never been the property of a few and must not be manipulated by them ... mixing science with politics and limiting academic freedom by boycotts is wrong".
In response to yesterday's decision, Ofir Frankel, spokesman for the Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, said: "We see it as discriminatory and counterproductive. It will make British academia look a little less serious."
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "Now is the time to strengthen the kinds of relationships that will bring all sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict together and, in this country, create a better understanding of the complex issues through that engagement. We call upon the union's leadership and all members who are rightly outraged by the decision to work towards a reversal of this policy."
Academics express outrage at Israeli boycott
Academics and students today hit back at the decision by university lecturers to support calls for a boycott of Israeli institutions.
Yesterday the University and College Union decided by 158 votes to 99 to circulate a motion to all its branches to discuss calls from Palestinian trade unions for a "comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions". The motion is going to branches for "their information and discussion".
But the decision taken at the inaugural UCU national conference in Bournemouth was condemned by the Russell group of research-led universities, the National Union of Students and organisations with an interest in Israel and academic free speech.
In a hard-hitting statement, the Russell group "rejected outright" the boycott call.
Its chairman, Prof Malcolm Grant, who is also president and provost of University College London, said: "It is a contradiction in terms and in direct conflict with the mission of a university.
"It betrays a misunderstanding of the academic mission, which is founded squarely on freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech.
"Any institution worthy of the title of university has the responsibility to protect these values, and it is particularly disturbing to find an academic union attacking academic freedom in this way."
Prof Grant promised that its universities "will uphold academic freedom by standing firm against any boycott that threatens it".
Meanwhile, the executive director of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB), Ofir Frankel, accused the union of allowing itself "to act as a one-sided player in Middle Eastern politics".
He said: "The IAB is amazed that the extremists that led their union to such an initiative decided not to discuss the option to pass this initiative to a vote of all 120,000 members, a decision that could have allowed the majority to rescue their union from this discriminatory action by reharnessing the values of academic freedom, discourse and debate, as their own general secretary suggested."
The chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, Jeremy Newmark, described the union's decision as "an assault on academic freedom" that "damages the credibility of British academia as a whole". He called for the union to organise a full membership ballot before introducing any boycott.
The decision by the UCU was also condemned by the Academic Friends of Israel, which accused the union of having "failed to support the wishes of its membership".
Criticism of the UCU decision also came from student organisations.
The president of the National Union of Students, Gemma Tumelty, said it did not support the principles behind an academic boycott of Israel because it "undermines the Israeli academics who support Palestinian rights".
It also "hinders the building of bridges between Israelis and Palestinians".
She added: "Retaining dialogue on all sides will be crucial in obtaining a lasting peace in the Middle East. International academics have a lot to offer higher education students in the UK and a boycott of this specific country is extremely worrying.
"We will express our concerns to UCU and we are awaiting clarification from them on the exact nature of this policy and its potential impact on students and the academic community."
There were also reservations about the UCU decision from the World Union of Jewish Students.
Its chairwoman, Tamar Shchory, a student at Ben Gurion University in south Israel, said: "In campuses abroad the climate of hostility towards the state of Israel and Jewish students is getting stronger.
"It seems like the UCU has chosen a one-sided, not constructive, position in a very complex and sensitive matter instead of promoting the basic value of academic freedom and constructive initiatives."
Livni protests UK academic boycott of Israel
Hagit Klaiman, Ynetnews
Foreign minister tells her British counterpart University and College Union's decision to consider boycott of Israeli academics and institutions is extremely severe. Meanwhile, Jewish and Israeli representatives anger attendees at UCU conference after handing out booklet protesting boycott
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Friday evening protested a decision made by the United Kingdom's University and College Union (UCU) to consider a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions in a talk with British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.
Livni told her counterpart that she viewed "these intentions, which contradict the good relations between the two countries, as extremely severe."
Officials at the Foreign Ministry said that Livni planned to discuss the issue with government and academic representatives next week.
The UCU made its decision on Wednesday in protest of Israel's policy against the Palestinians. The resolution, passed by 158 votes in favor and 99 against, notes that "Israel's 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement... deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students."
Also Friday, Britain's Jews boosted their efforts against the UCU's recommendation. Representatives of the Jewish community and Israel set up a stand at a convention held by the UCU in the city of Bournemouth and called on the attendees to cancel their decision.
Activists at the Israeli stands handed out a PR booklet at the convention, which included headlines from the British press slamming the UCU decision, including articles from leading newspapers such as The Independent, The London Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express.
Israeli Arab student against boyctott
Ophir Frenkel, the executive director of The International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) at Bar Ilan University, brought to the stands students and activists from the Jewish community who handed the booklets to some 250 union members.
The activists said that their efforts caused mayhem after some of the union members tried to prevent them from handing out the booklets. According to the activists, the union members were rude to them and even led to the closing down of the stand for an hour.
Amal Shkhadeh, an Israeli Arab student studying at Bar-Ilan University, turned to British Higher education Secretary Bill Rammell, who attended the Bournemouth convention, and told him the boycott recommendation also hurt Arab students in Israel. Rammell listened to what she had to say and told her that he personally opposed the boycott.
Israeli Ambassador to the UK Zvi Hefetz told Ynet that he had invited Rammell to visit Israel in an effort to tighten the academic relations between the two countries. According to the ambassador, Rammell accepted the invitation sand said he would consider his visit in the coming days.
Hefetz is also organizing a special conference in the UK which would be attended by the heads of the British and Israeli universities in a bid to decide on issues for joint research.
Hefetz said that Israel should not respond to the boycott "through war, but should continue to tighten the relations and express academic freedom."
Ronny Sofer contributed to the report.
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