Academics vote to drop boycott of Israeli universities

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The Independent Online

Lecturers have voted to abandon a boycott of Israeli universities which had provoked international outrage and threatened to split the academic world.

Lecturers have voted to abandon a boycott of Israeli universities which had provoked international outrage and threatened to split the academic world.

An emergency meeting of the Association of University Teachers overwhelmingly agreed to overturn the ban on two Israeli institutions which it had accused of complicity with oppression of Palestinians. The union had voted last month to sever ties with Bar-Ilan and Haifa universities, which deny all allegations against them.

But the decision caused controversy across the world and opponents of the ban waged a vigorous campaign to get it overturned. An emergency meeting was held after many members complained the original debate had been cut short and had excluded Jewish delegates by being held on the eve of Passover.

The bitter row turned academic against academic with each side denouncing the other's views. Two Israeli universities and a group of AUT members enlisted Anthony Julius, who was Diana, Princess of Wales's divorce lawyer, to begin action against the union for defamation and overstepping its powers. Yesterday's emergency meeting was called after more than 25 members complained about the previous vote. Jon Pike, a philosophy lecturer at the Open University who led the campaign to trigger an emergency meeting, described yesterday's decision as "a huge relief".

"You cannot be jubilant at times like this," he said. "It is a complex situation in the Middle East and people are suffering. My union needs to take serious steps towards addressing this. A boycott was not the way to do it."

Jewish leaders welcomed the decision. Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, described it as "a victory for academic freedom".

"I hope we will now see an increase in genuine academic dialogue in Britain, as is already happening between Israeli and Palestinian academics in Jerusalem and elsewhere," he added.

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