JERUSALEM/LONDON (EJP)---British Education Minister Bill Rammell has strongly criciticised the proposed academic boycott of Israel passed by the UK’s University and College Union whilst on a trip to Israel.
Speaking at a press conference at Hebrew University in Jerusalem Rammell called the action taken by the Union of Colleges and Universities earlier this month "fundamentally wrong".
"I hope that my visit here sends a strong message of the views of the British government and people," Rammell added.
Before leaving for Israel Rammell had made his views clear.
In the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called on the University and College Union to drop the resolution, passed at its annual meeting last week.
“I hope very much that the decision is overturned because it does absolutely no good for the peace process or indeed for relations in that part of the world,” Blair told MPs.
“The only solution ultimately is to relaunch the framework for a negotiated peace with a two-state solution at the heart of it.”
"Whilst I appreciate the independence of the UCU, I am very disappointed that the union has decided to pass a motion which encourages its members to consider boycotting Israeli academics and education institutions. I profoundly believe this does nothing to promote the Middle East peace process. In fact the reverse," he said.
In a statement issued last week the ecuation ministry said Rammell’s visit was designed "to consolidate both Anglo-Israeli and Anglo-Palestinian educational links."
The visit also reinforces the "UK’s wish to see a peaceful solution to the Israel/Palestine issue," the statement added. "The Government believes education should be seen as a means to contribute to the peace process, rather than a means to divide people."
US group against boycott
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society urged the members of the UCU to the motion, which they are worried could result in a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.
The motion was approved by delegates to the UCU’s annual meeting in response to a call from Palestinian trade unions for a boycott of Israeli academicsand now will be circulated for discussion by the full membership.
"We urge the membership of UCU, which will be discussing the motion over the next twelve months, to reject it," the AAAS statement said.
"We join with others in condemning the motion as antithetical to the positive role of free scientific inquiry in improving the lives of all citizens of the world, and in promoting cooperation among nations, despite political differences."
This is the third time in as many years that the AAAS has issued statements condemning efforts by British higher education associations to consider boycotts of Israeli academic institutions.
In 2005, the Association of University Teachers in Britain voted to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities. The council of the association later reversed the decision after objections by leading scholars and academic institutions.
Last year, another teachers association called on its members to boycott Israeli scholars and academic institutions that do not publicly declare their opposition to Israel’s policies in the territories. That proposal was never approved.
"Throughout its nearly 160-year history, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has stressed the importance of safeguarding free and open communication among scientists," the statement added.
"The fundamental value of the international exchange of scholars and freedom of expression is embodied in international human rights treaties and conventions as well as in declarations adopted by scientific and other professional organizations throughout the world.
"In an era when science is an increasingly global enterprise despite rising international tensions, the lessons of history should be heeded, namely that free and open communication and exchanges among scientists can bring important economic and diplomatic benefits to their fellow citizens."
Founded in 1848, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the international journal, Science. AAAS was.
It has nearly 130,000 individual members and 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals worldwide.
Julius backs Israeli academics
Meanwhile, prominent British Jewish lawyer Anthony Julius has said he is willing to represent individuals or institutions affected by the proposed boycott.
Prominent British Jewish lawyer Anthony Julius has said he is willing to represent individuals or institutions affected by the proposed boycott.
Julius found fame after acting for Princess Diana during her divorce and successfully defended American historian Deborah Lipstadt after she was sued by David Irving after she called him a Holocaust denier.
"Boycotts are gesture politics anyway but a resolution that comes close but is afraid to strike is a gesture wrapped up in a gesture - it’s nothing more than a bad smell," Julius said of the boycott which has yet to be implemented.