The move to boycott Israeli academics reopened a front which formerly involved a different British teachers’ association, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), which advanced a motion in April of last year to shun Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities. Responding to the urgings of Palestinian organizations, AUT declared the boycott and decided to exclude the two institutions from conventions and research projects.
A month later following a wide Israeli lobbyist campaign, the union voted to cancel the boycott. Soon after Monday’s Blackpool summit, the two teachers’ organizations are expected to unite into one association.
At the Blackpool summit, two motions were put to vote. The first called to help aid, protect and support Palestinian institutions and universities in light of the continuing attacks by the Israeli government, and to maintain ties with the Palestinian government to underscore this support. This motion also accuses Britain of scandalous incitement against Hamas.
The second motion called to renew last year’s boycott, and mentions “Israel’s persistent apartheid policy,” which includes the construction of the security fence and other discriminatory practices in the education system.
Whether the NATFHE boycott will be binding for the AUP, which reversed himself on a similar boycott earlier, remains to be seen.
The British Foreign Office deplores the decision, calling it "counterproductive and retrograde." The reaction from Israel is even stronger:
The chairman of the Knesset Committee for Science and Technology, MK Zevulun Orlev, asked his British counterpart to condemn the decision.
"We expect the British to decry the anti-Semitic and racist decision to encourage institutions for higher education to tighten cooperation with Israeli academic institutions," Orlev wrote in a letter addressed to members of the British parliament.
Also today, the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the largest labor union in Canada, voted in favor of a boycott of Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians.
Are these boycotts anti-Semitic? Maybe not, but, as I noted the other day, they are hypocritical, sanctimonious, and deeply wrong. No one is demanding a boycott of Russian academics over Russia's occupation of Chechnya and the atrocities committed there (which dwarf, to put it mildly, Israel's human rights abuses in the occupied territories). Or, as Ari Paul points out in an article at Reason.com, a boycott of Chinese academics because of the occupation of Tibet and other assorted abuses by the Chinese regime. Or ... sadly, the list could go on and on.
Partly, this double standard is rooted in the all-too-familiar leftist mentality which strenuously condemns bad behavior by Western or pro-Western governments while turning a blind eye to the far worse misdeeds of communist and/or Third World regimes. (It's not quite clear into which category Putin's Russia falls.) But the movement to boycott Israel is especially repulsive because it combines this anti-Western, anti-democratic bias with an element of "picking on the little guy." No one in his or her right mind, even among the British intelligentsia or Canadian public employees, would propose boycotting American institutions because of the occupation of Iraq. Why? Because, obviously, such a boycott would cripple any institution's ability to conduct its business; in the case of an academic boycott, it would cripple a country's academic life and scientific research. But lashing out at Israel as a proxy for America is something one can do with minimal inconvenience.
An American boycott of any institution that participates in this shameful enterprise would be an appropriate response. It would be too much to expect the American Association of University Professors, but the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers should step up to the plate.
More: An interesting comment from a generally non-political diary, reflecting on the irony of the British boycott to protest Israeli "apartheid" policies:
How incredibly ironic, considering that it was Britain who created this "apartheid" in the first place!
In 1917, the British government pledged to support the establishment of a Jewish "national home" in what was then part of the Ottoman Empire. But they also had a debt to pay to a certain tribal chieftain, Abdullah of the Hashemites, who sided with Britain against the Turks. When Britain was given mandate over the entire area in 1922, they lopped off 80% of the land, called it "Trans-Jordan", and gave it to Abdullah. The remaining land was then once again partitioned by the UN, once Britain gave up its mandate. The Jews accepted this partition, the Arabs did not, precipitating the war of 1948.
It was Britain, and Britain alone, who was responsible for giving Jordan to the Hashemites to rule, even though they did not represent the majority of the local population (and still do not).
Heaven forbid that knowledge of history should interfere with anyone's sense of self-righteousness! And how odd that Israel should be singled out, when there are so many more worthy candidates, from Turkey to Russia. And let's not forget Britain itself - Northern Ireland, anyone? And I don't see an Australian Aboriginal state being formed in this former British colony, either.