Israel boycott dispute back on AUT agenda

February 17, 2006

An academic boycott of Israeli universities over their Government's treatment of Palestinians was thrust firmly back on to the agenda of the Association of University Teachers this week, when a leading advocate of sanctions took her place on the union's special "investigative commission"

on the issue, writes Phil Baty.

The 50,000-member AUT caused an international outcry and polarised scholars last year when its annual conference agreed a policy to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities in Israel.

But after a grassroots backlash the policy was overturned at a special conference and the union resolved to set up an investigative commission to consider the issue.

Sue Blackwell, a leading pro-boycott campaigner who proposed the original boycott motion, confirmed this week that she would be taking her seat on the commission. She is one of four ordinary AUT members elected to the body.

Ms Blackwell, a lecturer at Birmingham University, said: "Our Palestinian colleagues are calling even more loudly for a campaign of boycotts, sanctions and disinvestment against the apartheid regime as a non-violent way of putting pressure on Israel to end the illegal occupation (of Palestinian territory).

Jon Pike, boycott opponent and also on the commission, said a boycott was an "abrogation of academic freedom and a descent into the politics of demonisation".

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