Academics try to overturn Israeli university boycott

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The Independent Online

The controversial boycott of two Israeli universities by British academics could be overturned before it can start to take effect.

The controversial boycott of two Israeli universities by British academics could be overturned before it can start to take effect.

Academics who oppose the boycott plan are to call an unprecedented special conference of the Association of University Teachers to overturn the ban after a massive international backlash against the boycott.

Only 25 council members - AUT members elected to represent colleagues at the union's annual conference - need to request that a special conference be held.

Lecturers who oppose the ban believe they will collect enough signatures to trigger a new conference, according to the Times Higher Educational Supplement. Jewish scholars have already called for a tit-for-tat boycott of British academics. The AUT, the UK's leading academics' union, last week voted to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan universities for their alleged collusion with the Israeli government in its mistreatment of the Palestinians.

The vote, at the union's annual conference - known as council - could see all AUT members sever all links with the universities.

The boycott motion accused Bar Ilan of being "directly involved with the occupation of Palestinian territories" because it supervises degree programmes at a college based in the settlement of Ariel, near Nablus in the West Bank.

Haifa was accused of failing to uphold the academic freedom of staff and students who conducted research into the founding of the state of Israel that portrayed the country in an unflattering light.

But delegates who oppose the ban have complained that the accusations are false and that not enough time was allowed for debate at last week's conference. Meanwhile, the Commission for Racial Equality has received a complaint that the debate was held on the eve of the Jewish festival of Passover, which meant that Jews could not attend. John Pike, the philosopher at the Open University who is organising the call for a special meeting, said he was "close" to reaching the 25 signatures. "It [the meeting] will happen, and with proper debate, it [the boycott] will be overturned," he said.

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