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PACBI-Was the notion of an Israeli boycott too much to contemplate?

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The Guardian | October 1, 2007

Was the notion of an Israeli boycott too much to contemplate?

It seems the leaders of Britain's lecturers have managed to stamp out the possibility of any future academic boycott of Israeli universities before it was even in the offing.

The University and College Union said on Friday that it would drop lecturers' controversial call for a debate over the possibility of an academic boycott of Israel's universities after leaders were told it would be illegal.

The union has apparently been given legal advice that says a boycott call ran the risk of infringing discrimination laws and it was considered outside the aims and objects of the union.

Union officials have already moved to suspend regional meetings set up to discuss the "moral implications" of existing links and hear from Palestinian trade unionists living under Israeli occupation who had called for the protest.

And UCU general secretary Sally Hunt has insisted that the majority of the union's 120,000 members would neither back a boycott bid, nor deem it a priority.

But, as letters in today's Guardian show, the moves have upset university lecturers who say it contravenes basic academic freedom and effectively gags academic debate.

The issue stems from the union's annual congress in Bournemouth in May, when members sparked international controversy by demanding a year-long debate towards a vote on cutting academic ties with Israeli universities.

While the proposals were approved by 158 votes to 99, Jewish leaders, university vice-chancellors and government officials all condemned the move.

But now the pro-boycott debate is hitting back. Could the policy drop have anything to do with Ms Hunt's managerial style? Union officials complain that she cuts a very controlling figure.

And should academics be allowed to debate the whys and wherefores of an academic boycott of Israel? Or is it too controversial an issue to even contemplate?

Posted on 02-10-2007

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