Returning and Redemption
By Jon Boone and Rebecca Knight in London
The decision by Britain’s biggest lecturers union to boycott Israeli academics has been denounced as “anti-Semitic” by the president of Harvard University.
Lawrence Summers, formerly US Treasury secretary, attacked the decision by Natfhe members to support a boycott of Israeli academics who fail publicly to dissociate themselves from Israel’s “apartheid policies”.
He said- “There is much that should be, indeed that must be, debated regarding Israeli policy. However, the academic boycott resolution passed by the British professors union in the way that it singles out Israel is, in my judgment, anti-Semitic in both effect and in intent.”
His added that he hoped the decision would be repudiated “in the strongest possible terms” by scholars around the world.
Many groups have done just that, with the Israeli-led International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom announcing that it was even prepared to pursue legal avenues to overturn any boycotts.
Malcolm Grant, the president and provost of University College London, joined the chorus of disapproval, saying he was “deeply worried” by the motion.
“I find it extraordinary that any academic union should attack academic freedom in this way. An academic boycott for political ends is in direct conflict with the mission of a university, and betrays a misunderstanding of our function.”
The boycott is only an advisory motion and ceases to be policy today when Natfhe officially merges with another union, the Association of University Teachers (AUT).
Prof Grant and others fear the new University and College Union (UCU) will be “contaminated from the outset”.
Concern about anti-Israeli activism among British academics was triggered last year after the AUT voted for a boycott of two institutions in Israel, one of which was accused of illegal construction on Palestinian land.
Campaigners said this week that it was inconceivable that the issue would not re-emerge and be voted on at the UCU.
Steven Rose, a neurobiologist at the Open University and a leading light in the boycott campaign, said Mr Summers’ remarks were “grotesque”.
“There is nothing anti-Semitic about putting pressure on Israeli institutions and their academic staff to fight against the illegal and anti-human rights policies of the Israeli state.”