Britain's University and College Union (UCU), comprising of university academics, voted in favor of considering a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions at its conference in Bournemouth on Thursday evening.
The resolution, passed by 158 votes in favor and 99 against, "notes that Israel's 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement... deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students."
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said after the vote: "I do not believe a boycott is supported by the majority of UCU members... Today's motion on boycott means all branches now have a responsibility to consulate all of their members on the issue... Any future calls for a boycott must pass key tests before a boycott can be implemented."
Zvi Hefetz, Israel's ambassador to London,
said that he understood that the lecturers had decided to only support a call for discussions on a boycott, but not actually implement it. At the same time, he said he was disappointed by this, as he feared the future discussions would be dominated by extremists.
Responding to the resolution, Professor Menachem Kellner, Professor of Jewish Thought at Haifa University, said: "I'm deeply disappointed by the failure of truth and justice at this vote."
"I don't think such a boycott will seriously impact Israeli academia, but I treat it with seriousness because it will affect Jewish organizations abroad," Kellner added.
"The people who organized this boycott are working for the forces of evil. They not working for Palestinians, they are working against Israel," Kellner declared, adding: "If there was something there that would actually help Palestinians, I would say they are honest but dumb. But this is just an attempt to defame and delegitimize Israel."
"This is a sad day for British academia. The boycott resolution is a badge of dishonor," Kellner said.
Ronnie Fraser, Chairman of the Academic Friends of Israel organization, who spoke during the debate, said that Britain was the only country in Europe seeking a boycott of Israel.
"There will be very little take up of this issue because Israeli academica is premier league, everyone wants to work with them," Fraser said. "There are 500 current projects involving Israeli academics in the EU framework. Europe is not interested in a boycott or a moratorium, and its going to have absolutely no effect."
"We will continue to oppose the boycott, and spare no efforts in combating it. Nothing we heard today was of a positive nature," he added.
The resolution condemned "the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions," and instructs British academics to "circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches," and to "encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposedlinks with Israeli academic institutions."
Hagit Klaiman contributed to the report