UK Universities Minister David Willetts (Wikimedia Commons)
UK Universities Minister David Willetts: Perception of hostility to Israelis is mistaken. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
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Fewer Israeli students have been coming to England to study because of mistaken perceptions that Britain is “an unfriendly or hostile place” to Israel or Israelis. That mistaken perception needs addressing, said David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, in a visit to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Monday.

There has been no boycott of Israeli academia in the U.K., Willetts said at a meeting with Israeli and English academics and with Israeli Education Minister Shai Piron at the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus.

"[Boycotts] would be completely wrong, and there is no [U.K.] university that is boycotting Israel," he said.

“When I try to make sense of the decline of numbers of Israeli students coming to study in Britain, I worry that part of it is the perception in Israel that Britain is an unfriendly or hostile place. And what we know from the measures that are taken is that, fortunately, Britain is one of the European countries that scores best on having very, very low anti-Semitism," the Conservative minister said, adding, "We pride ourselves on being an open and tolerant society.”

Willetts suggested that ways be considered to encourage more student exchanges and closer academic and research ties between Israel and the U.K.

Be all this as it may, there had been thoughts in the U.K. of boycotting Israel, as early as 2002, when two professors, Steven and Hilary Rose, wrote an open letter in The Guardian calling for a boycott because of the occupation. Then in 2005 the Association of University Teachers took the leap and voted to boycott the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. The sanction was called off however after a backlash.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Press TV reported that the Royal Institute of British Architects, or RIBA, called on the International Union of Architects to boycott the Israeli Association of Architects. RIBA specifically cited its opposition to settlement expansion.

It was preempted earlier in the week by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, which itself declared a boycott of their Israeli counterparts.