LONDON, June 2, 2006 -- The governing council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) said in a statement this week that it opposes academic boycotts, "firmly believing that scientists provide a voice for rationality and moderation in political affairs. A boycott of Israeli academics announced yesterday by Britain's largest faculty union would undermine the crucial long-term goal of building strong bridges of understanding between cultures." (For a 2005 NAS Council statement, "International Cooperation in Science," visit: http://www.nationalacademies.org/morenews/20060530.html)
The motion to boycott Israeli academics, approved Monday by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), Britain's largest academic trade union, has provoked condemnations from Israeli and British officials and from senior academics and universities in Israel and abroad, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday.
The call to consider a boycott of Israeli academics was passed with 106 votes in favor, 71 votes against and 21 abstentions.
Following the vote, the union's official statement declared that "[The] Conference notes [the] continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including [the] construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices."
Israel's Ambassador to the UK, Zvi Hefetz, told the Jerusalem Post, "Around the world, this proposal has been rejected as an act of blatant discrimination. As a means of promoting dialogue and coexistence in the Middle East, an academic boycott of Israel is counterproductive in the extreme.
"By pursuing such a policy, NATFHE will isolate its members and their students rather than isolating Israeli academics, who are [in] the forefront of international cooperation on academic study and research, including with Palestinian universities and institutions elsewhere in the Arab world," Hefetz added.
Following NATFHE's vote on Monday, University of Haifa President Aaron Ben-Ze'ev said the university strongly condemned the boycott decision.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Lord Triesman also expressed regret at the boycott vote:
"We regret today's decision by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) to vote in favour of boycotting Israeli academics and institutions," Triesman said in a statement. "We believe that such academic boycotts are counterproductive and retrograde. Far more can be obtained through dialogue and academic cooperation."
The resolution was "advisory" rather than mandatory, the New York Times reported Tuesday, and was similar to a call last year by the smaller Association of University Teachers.
Yesterday, those unions merged into a single body, the University and College Union (UCU). The New York Times reported that there had been some discussion of the resolution's status after the merger. "Some academics said the struggle over the principle of boycotting would carry over to the new organization," it said.
But the focus of the merged unions' first official statement focused more on pay raises and made no mention of the boycott.
"The creation of new union UCU is today being marked by a day of solidarity by its higher education members who are involved in a major national pay dispute," the UCU announced yesterday in a press statement.
"The University and College Union will continue the dispute which began with the predecessor unions AUT and NATFHE. Events will take place across the UK, including a lobby of the headquarters of the employers' body, UCEA, which has repeatedly failed to make an acceptable pay offer."
Members were also asked to mark the solidarity day by collecting money for a dispute hardship fund to help support members "hit by pay deductions as a result of taking part in the industrial action," the statement said.
Last year, the AUT voted to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities, charging them with complicity in Israel's "suppression of the Palestinians," according to the Jerusalem Post. The council of the association reversed the decision after objections by leading scholars and academic organizations.
For more information, visit: www.nationalacademies.org