From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)
Liz Ford | The Guardian | 26 May 2005
Members of the Association of University Teachers are meeting in London today to vote for a second time on whether to boycott Israeli universities.
The AUT caused uproar around the world when its members voted to boycott Bar-Ilan and Haifa Universities at its conference last month. The institutions are accused of being complicit in the abuse of Palestinians in the occupied territories, something both have strenuously denied. Haifa University has now issued legal proceedings against the AUT.
Today's meeting followed intense lobbying by AUT members opposed to the boycott, who complained that not enough time was given at the conference to debate the issue fully.
Whether the rebel AUT members can succeed in overturning the boycott is too close to call, as the move has been lauded and condemned in equal measure by academics, ministers and human rights groups around the world.
The architect of the boycott, Sue Blackwell, a Birmingham University academic, is unrepentant, although she has refused to speculate on the outcome of today's vote.
Others in the pro-boycott camp claim the ban would benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.
Writing in the Guardian yesterday, legal experts and academics from Israel called on the British government and the EU to "fall in line with the principled stance of the AUT" to ensure that no Israeli institution "that contributes to the violations of international law inherent in the land seizures and construction of illegal settlements in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories should qualify for any government or EU-sponsored assistance".
Ronnie Kasrils, an intelligence minister in the South African government and a former commander in the African National Congress, said "boycotts and sanctions ultimately helped liberate both blacks and whites in South Africa. Palestinians and Israelis will similarly benefit from this non-violent campaign that Palestinians are calling for".
On the other side of the debate, 21 Nobel prize winners have expressed their concerns about the boycott. In a letter published in the Guardian on Tuesday, they called on the AUT to reverse its decision, saying academic freedom was not "the property of a few and must not be manipulated by them". It was wrong to mix science with politics and to limit academic freedom by boycott, the letter said.
David Newman, a professor of political geography at Ben Gurion University in Israel, and Benjamin Pogrund, director of Yakar's Centre for Social Concern in Jerusalem, said a boycott would do "irreparable harm to the tenuous, but growing, Israeli-Palestinian relations and joint research at almost all of Israel's universities".
The Labour peer Lord Mitchell called the boycott "misguided" and "misjudged" in a speech he gave to the House of Lords yesterday. He questioned why the union had chosen to boycott Israel solely, while ignoring other countries whose governments had dubious human rights records and where universities experienced limited, if any, academic freedoms.
The result of the vote is expected late this afternoon.