LONDON - Britain's National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) Monday approved an academic boycott on Israeli higher education institutions that do not condemn Israel’s “apartheid policy.” NAFTHE, which with a membership of 67,000 educators is one of the UK’s largest teachers' unions, voted 106 to 71, with 21 abstentions, in favor of the boycott during a Blackpool convention.
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.
'Consider your conduct'
The motion invites members of the organization to consider their conduct to promise equality and non-discrimination in academic ties with Israeli academic institutions, and to way shunning those that don’t publicly distance themselves from such a country.
Natphe spokesman Trevor Phillips told Ynet that the organization did not take a decision to boycott Israel, but to recommend to its members to take such a decision on a personal basis. It seems that the organization decided to soften the formulation of the boycott to appear as if it is it not forcing its members to carry it out, but only calling on it to take a personal decision according to their conscience.
Phillips added that he does not believe he is a member of a racist organization, and that it was in insult to think this "only because the organization was criticizing Israeli government policy."
Meanwhile, union members heard an urgent recommendation to condemn a decision by the EU and the US to end the flow of funds to Palestinian institutions following the rise of Hamas to power, and called on the restrictions to end.
Vice Chairman of the Higher Education Council, Professor Yehezkiel Teler, said that the decision by a British lecturers' union to boycott Israeli academic institutions in Israel was reminiscent of the boycott in Nazi Germany.
"Now Britain is politicizing academia, in opposition to every academic value accepted in the world. This will come back on them like a boomerang. They are isolating themselves and those who boycott will in the end by boycotted. It is a shame that England is leading this anti-democratic and anti-academic step," said Teler.
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Lord Triesman said in response: "We regret today's decision by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education to vote in favour of boycotting Israeli academics and institutions."
"The British Government has a record of supporting academic freedom for academics throughout the world. We also recognise the independence of NATFHE. We believe that such academic boycotts are counterproductive and retrograde. Far more can be obtained through dialogue and academic cooperation," the minister said in a statement.