AUT expected to change boycott policy

May 20, 2005

The Association of University Teachers looks almost certain to overturn its decision to boycott two Israeli universities, writes Phil Baty.

As The Times Higher went to press this week, it appeared that the majority of motions to be put to a special AUT council next week will oppose the policy to boycott Bar-Ilan and Haifa universities. It is understood that most local AUT branches have fresh mandates to oppose the policy.

The two AUT branches - Birmingham and the Open University - that had put the original boycott motions to the annual AUT conference did a U-turn and submitted new motions opposing the boycott to special council on May 26.

In both cases, the new motions were forced by grassroots members angered by the boycott.

The strongest pro-boycott message from Birmingham merely states that where students and staff do not enjoy academic freedom, academic boycotts of Israeli universities are in principle "a legitimate form of peaceful protest". But the motion does not call for the retention of the boycott policy.

Jon Pike, who has organised moves against the boycott, said: "Wherever there have been full local meetings of AUT members, it has been clear that the boycotts of Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities are decisively opposed."

Although the national AUT office was not due to confirm the full list of motions until after T he Times Higher had gone to press, it seemed that a new motion - to boycott the College of Judea and Samaria - would be put before next week's special council meeting. But as this college, which is soon to be given university status, is based in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank, the proposal is expected to be less controversial.

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