Israel boycott survives just 3 days

June 2, 2006

The academic boycott of Israel agreed by lecturers' union Natfhe this week became defunct, just three days after it was agreed, writes Phil Baty.

The boycott, agreed by delegates at Natfhe's conference held over the Bank Holiday weekend, was in effect defunct by Thursday when the union merged with the Association of University Teachers and all policy differences between the two former unions were officially shelved.

Delegates at the annual conference in Blackpool voted narrowly in favour of a motion that condemned Israel's "apartheid policies" and invited individual Natfhe members to "consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those who do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies".

But the policy was largely symbolic, as it did not commit any of the 70,000 Natfhe members to a boycott, leaving it instead to individual conscience.

But even this position ceased to be union policy on June 1, when Natfhe and the AUT merged to form the University and College Union.

In a statement, the AUT says: "The AUT does not endorse this policy and is strongly advising its members not to implement it. On June 1, the AUT and Natfhe join to form the University and College Union. The Natfhe motion is not binding on the UCU. The AUT will not support or co-operate in any way with any attempts to implement the Natfhe motion in advance of the first UCU annual national congress in June 2007."

Controversial policy differences between the former unions are likely to be put to the first conference of the newly merged UCU next spring. The AUT's 2005 annual conference agreed an official boycott of named Israeli institutions, but this was later overturned at an emergency council meeting. The AUT now has a policy to apply boycotts in exceptional circumstances only.

Yosef Yeshurun, rector of Bar-Ilan University and chairman of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom at BIU, said. "It is unfortunate that Natfhe decided to adopt a negative approach, seeking to burn bridges instead of building them."

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