Text size

Britain's University and College Union (UCU) voted on Wednesday to promote a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, protesting Israel's policy on the Palestinians. Jewish and Israeli officials in the U.K. and Israel reacted with outrage to the motion which, for the most part, is a rhetorical move.

The motion was approved by a 158 to 99 vote, and called for freezing European funding for Israeli academic institutions, while condemning "Israeli academia's cooperation with the occupation."

In addition, the UCU decided to bring the question of whether to boycott Israel up for discussion by all the union's members, numbering about 120,000. The discussions are scheduled to take place over the next 12 months. The motion encouraged union members to "consider the moral implications of conducting ties with Israeli academic institutions."

The vote was preceded by a heated discussion in which Israel was repeatedly referred to as an apartheid state, engaging in crimes against humanity in the occupied territories. The union representatives adopted two separate resolutions promoting an academic boycott against Israel. They said the situation in the territories did not allow spectators to stand idly by.

In addition, the union congress pledged to advertise the Palestinians' request for a boycott against Israel in all the union's offices, and to arrange for academics from the Palestinian Authority to attend delegations to the U.K. The union's representatives also decided to establish direct contact with Palestinian workers' organizations.

The union will also act toward halting academic cooperation with Israel, which is currently conducted through the European Union. The motion called for freezing all EU funding for Israeli academic institutions until Israel will "comply with the United Nation's resolutions."

Ronnie Fraser, who heads the British group Academic Friends of Israel, said that "the vote proved that nothing has changed within the ranks of the U.K.'s academic unions. This is another boycott."

In 2005, Fraser acted to overturn another boycott against Israel, which had been approved by the Association of University Teachers (AUT.) That decision was overturned a month after it was passed. In 2006, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) also moved to boycott Israel, but its decision became invalid shortly thereafter when NATFHE and AUT merged to form the UCU.

UCU's general secretary, Sally Hunt, also opposes the motion. "I do not believe a boycott is supported by the majority of UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it is a priority for the union," she said. "Now, the union's branches will consult their members to form a stance on the boycott. Any decision to actually impose a boycott will have to overcome serious stipulations."

Israel's ambassador to Britain, Zvi Hefetz, responded by saying that the resolution was offensive to Britain's Jewish community. "Its slanted phrasing reeks of ignorance," he added. Adrian Fronda, a senior mathematics lecturer who had joined the union solely to vote against the boycott, was less diplomatic. "I came here to oppose the prevalent anti-Semitism we see all around us here," he said.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir condemned the British union's decision, saying she would address the British education minister on the matter.

The chairman of the Committee of University Heads, Professor Moshe Kaveh, called on British scientists to continue conducting joint projects with Israeli scientists. Tamara Traubmann contributed reporting.