Lecturers' union supports boycott of 'apartheid' Israel

Britain's biggest lecturers' union has backed a call for a boycott of Israeli universities in protest at its government's "apartheid" policies towards Palestine.

Delegates at the annual conference of the 69,000-strong NATFHE, the university and college lecturers' union, voted to urge all their members to consider boycotting all Israeli institutions and academics who did not publicly dissociate themselves from their government's policies.

The move will cause international outrage in the academic community with many claiming that the move is a denial of freedom of speech.

It was passed by 106 votes to 71 (with 21 abstentions) at the conference in Blackpool despite a strong plea from Paul Mackney, the union's general secretary, who urged delegates to vote it down.

Tom Hickey, a philosophy lecturer from Brighton University proposing the motion, said there were "important and ringing similarities" between the policies of the Israeli government and the apartheid regime in South Africa.

An exclusion wall had been built in Palestine to separate the communities, which led to unequal development for the two. "We are asking our members to consider should we or should we not work with Israeli institutions or individuals who turn away from what is happening in Palestine," he said.

One Israeli school had been fired on in the past six years, but the number of Palestinian schools targeted was 185, he said. In addition, 14,400 Palestinian homes had been partly destroyed and 2,200 totally destroyed.

"Silence, as Edmund Burke once so memorably observed, is all that's needed for evil to be done," Mr Hickey added.

John Morgan, a law lecturer from South Bank University, seconding the motion, agreed a boycott would infringe academic freedom but added: "It can be right to do that only if the exercise of that freedom infringes the rights of another. In doing that, the purpose is to make academia think again and make the state think again."

A year ago, the 32,000-strong Association of University Teachers singled out three Israeli universities for boycotts, claiming they had been complicit in the Israeli government's "abuse" of Palestinians. It eventually withdrew the motion at a later conference in the face of strong opposition.

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