Nathan Jeffay and Melanie Newman The Times Higher Education Supplement 08
Overseas condemnation of Britain and spectre of sanctions looms. Nathan
Jeffay and Melanie Newman report
UK academics faced an unprecedented backlash this week as a threatened
boycott of Israeli universities raised the spectre of international
sanctions against British goods and research.
The Israeli Government, an American research foundation and lawyers on both
sides of the Atlantic are lined up to sink any boycott of Israeli academe
stemming from a motion passed at the inaugural congress of the University
and College Union.
But while the global backlash gained momentum, UCU officials were unable to
clarify exactly what implications, if any, the 158 to 99 vote in favour of a
boycott motion at last week's congress would have for UK universities and
academics. It raises the possibility that, having sparked a major
international outcry, a boycott may fail to materialise.
On Monday, the Knesset, Israel's parliament, began debating a draft law that
could see British imports to Israel labelled, "This country is involved in
an anti-Israeli boycott". This followed a letter to British academe from
Elizabeth Goldhirsh of the US-based Goldhirsh Foundation, which funds
research into brain cancer, saying it had been considering opening its grant
applications to UK researchers but would now be no longer be able to do so.
In the UK, Anthony Julius, a lawyer at London-based Mishcon de Reya who
acted for the late Diana, Princess of Wales in her divorce from Prince
said he had teamed up with top American lawyer Alan Dershowitz to fight the
Speaking exclusively to The Times Higher, Mr Julius, who is also a visiting
professor at Birkbeck, University of London, said: "The vote has stimulated
a great sense of solidarity among distinct constituencies. The overwhelming
majority of Jews find the motion repellent, academics recoil from the double
standards in the resolution and the threat to academic freedom, and people
who are neither Jews nor academics see this activity for what it is:
generated by malice and hatred for Israel."
Professor Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard
University, has promised to visit financial and legal ruin on any UK
academic supporting a boycott.
Speaking in this week's Times Higher, Professor Dershowitz likened the
boycott to the treatment of Jewish students and faculty in Nazi Germany. He
promised "extraordinarily punitive" sanctions against those involved in
Tom Hickey, chair of Brighton University's UCU branch and proposer of the
boycott motion, said that the vote would enhance the international
reputation of British academics.
"We have shown that we are not separating ourselves in an ivory tower but
using our scholarly judgment to improve the world," he told The Times
Ian McDonald, a senior lecturer from Brighton University who supported the
UCU motion, said: "We have to challenge the notion that to be anti-Zionist
is to be anti-Semitic."