'Racist' undertones color U.K. lecturers' Israel boycott debate
A resolution by British lecturers to boycott Israeli universities was overturned on legal grounds.
A resolution by British lecturers last week to boycott Israeli universities was overturned on legal grounds. Jewish leaders condemned the vote, citing what they called "anti-Semitic" and "racist" overtones at a meeting held beforehand.
The balloting was held Wednesday at the University and College Union congress in Bournemouth. Delegates accused Israeli academics of complicity in Israel's acts against Palestinians.
This marked the fourth consecutive year that the Union voted in favor of boycotting Israel; the previous calls were never acted upon.
Especially disconcerting to Zionist Britons was a statement by Sean Wallis, secretary for the Union's branch at University College London, who reportedly said the position that a boycott was illegal was attributable to lawyers backed by people with "bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can't be tracked down." Wallis denied making the comment.
Until its 2008 crash, the Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. was a global financial-services firm. It was established and owned by Jews. According to one false theory, Jewish executives at Lehman Brothers sent $400 billion to Israel before the bank collapsed.
"This disgusting remark shows that the agenda of at least some in the Israel boycott movement goes way beyond the political into the outright racist," Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chair of Britain's Zionist Federation, told Haaretz.
The Union did not give its reaction before press time, but Wallis said: "I utterly refute the allegation, I oppose racism in all its forms." He added he considered the allegations to be "a professional slander as well as one that impugns my integrity as a trade unionist."
Wallis reportedly made the statement before some 80 people on Tuesday at a "fringe meeting" by the British Committee for Universities for Palestine in Bournemouth. The meeting was held in preparation of the Union vote. The Committee did not reply to Haaretz's query.
The final draft of the resolutions passed on Wednesday carries an explanation stating the resolutions will be viewed as null unless they are amended to remove the call for a boycott.
Ronnie Fraser, a veteran campaigner within the Union against boycotting Israel, said that despite the stipulation, the resolutions were "in essence against the law, and as such illegitimate."
A prominent British Zionist said: "I do not see how Wallis can continue as branch secretary at UCL after such a comment."Fraser has written to the Board of Deputies of British Jews - the Jewish community's main representative body ? to draw their attention to the statement, and urge them to demand explanations from UCL as to statements reportedly made by the institution's official representative.