New York – The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has condemned the vote of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) in favor of a boycott of Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that do not publicly dissociate themselves from what they describe as Israels apartheid policies. Delegates at the conference of NATFHE, Britains largest lecturers union, narrowly backed the boycott proposal, despite a petition from more than 5,000 academics from the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, which called on NATFHEs 69,000 members to reject the boycott motion when it goes before delegates at the unions annual conference.
Presented on the final day of the NATFHE conference, the motion criticized Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices and invited members to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies. The decision was greeted with disappointment and anger by anti-boycott campaigners last night, but Palestinian groups issued declarations of support.
NATFHE and the Association of University Teachers (AUT) are due to merge later this week and the NATFHE resolution will therefore be only advisory. However, supporters of the boycott say the NATFHE decision is important and represents a step change in the wider boycott campaign against Israel. (The AUT itself voted last year to impose an academic boycott on two Israeli universities but reversed its decision after an international outcry and a revolt by AUT members). David Hirsh, an AUT member, said, It may not have anti-Semitic motivations, but if you organize an academic boycott of Israeli Jewish academics but no one else in the world, that is an anti-Semitic policy. Whats NATFHE going to do? Set up a committee before which Israeli academics will be hauled? (Guardian (UK), May 30).
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the worlds largest general science society, has called upon NATFHE to rescind its decision, saying it condemns the proposed boycott 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 … Free scientific inquiry and associated international collaborations should not be compromised in order to advance a political agenda unrelated to scientific and scholarly matters (Medical News Today, May 28).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, The ZOA condemns the anti-Semitism that lies behind the call for an academic boycott of Israel. No other country in the world, no matter how evil its regime and its crimes, has been the subject of such a boycott by NATFHE or other academic bodies. It is only the Jewish state of Israel, a vibrant democracy in which both Jews and Arabs are citizens that NATFHE singles out for this sort of sanction.
Israeli universities are leading world-class institutions of learning that admit Israeli Arabs without discrimination. Has NATFHE ever condemned, let alone voted to impose a boycott, on universities in the Arab world that exclude or discriminate against Jews or other minorities? Of course not. In addition to being anti-Semitic in singling out Israel, which has not infringed upon academic freedom, NATFHE also exposes its extremism in demanding that Israeli academics and institutions undergo a Spanish Inquisition-style denunciation of Israeli government policies in order to escape the effect of the boycott. Since when is NATFHE the arbiter of truth and justice in the Middle East?
Academics and indeed people everywhere should denounce this deeply illiberal, hypocritical and biased attack upon Israel by NATFHE, which is an assault on the basic principles of academic freedom. The ZOA therefore praises the American Association for the Advancement of Science for urging NATFHE to withdraw its vote. We strongly urge all other academic bodies worldwide to condemn NAFTHEs deplorable and dangerous resolution.