Members of the University and College Union in England (UCU) passed a motion at their annual conference on Wednesday to consider severing ties with Israeli universities.

Tom Hickey, who teaches philosophy at the University of Brighton, says the motion highlighting the "humanitarian catastrophe imposed on Gaza by Israel" is just shy of a full boycott, The Telegraph said.

The UCU, the largest trade union and professional organization for academics and lecturers working throughout the United Kingdom, called on its colleagues to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned.

The motion noted "the continuation of illegal settlement, killing of civilians and the impossibility of civil life, including education" as a result of the occupation.

The Jewish physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg said he canceled plans to visit England in protest of the measure.

A Foreign Office spokesperson released the following statement: "The British Government fully supports academic freedom and is firmly against any academic boycotts of Israel, Israeli universities or academics."

"The British Government does not consider boycotts constructive," the Foreign Office said. "They do nothing to advance the prospects for peace. It is therefore all the more important to keep open channels of communication with academics and educational institutions in the Middle East and to support - as we are - dialogue between the Israeli government andthe Palestinian Authority."

Israel Ambassador to England Ron Prosor said the move runs counter to academic principles.

"Any call to an academic boycott on Israel is an act of folly since boycott stands as a contradiction of what academy symbolizes and represents," Prosor said.

John Spellar, Labor MP for Warley, has slammed UCU's motion, which he said would allow for a boycott of Israeli academia.

"It is a matter of great regret that the UCU has passed this motion, which runs contrary to the views of ordinary members and against principles of academic freedom," he said.

The motion follows last year's attempts by the union to implement a similar boycott motion, but was withdrawn by the union following undisclosed legal advice.

This year's motion was debated despite the legal advice that the Stop the Boycott campaign had obtained, which clearly states that any boycott of Israeli academia would be in breach of the union's own anti-discrimination policies, as well as British anti-discrimination laws.

The Academic Friends of Israel condemned the UCU for passing a resolution "which is clearly discriminatory and anti-Semitic and, we believe, in clear violation of the U.K. Race Relations act."

Jeremy Newmark, Joint Head of the Stop the Boycott Campaign said: "UCU has again demonstrated how out of touch it is with the vast majority of its membership and with the wider academic community. This motion does nothing to help the Palestinians."

He said the resolution "runs counter to all that a Trade Union should stand for, discriminating against some of its members instead of defending all of them."

Lorna Fitzsimons, Joint Head of the Stop the Boycott campaign, said the motion "in effect gives license to harassment and discrimination within academic institutions, the very thing the UCU is supposed to protect its members from."