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Groups Mobilize As British Teachers Consider Another Boycott of Israelis

Jewish groups are mobilizing to defeat another potential boycott of Israeli academics, this time by Britain’s largest union for college teachers. The 65,000-member National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education meets May 27-29. Barring procedural stumbling blocks, NATFHE will vote on an “emergency motion” to blacklist Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that don’t publicly declare their opposition to Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

The motion accuses Israel of “apartheid policies” and asks NATFHE members to boycott Israeli educational institutions and individuals who don’t publicly distance themselves from Israeli policy.

The move comes a year after another British union, the Association of University Teachers, passed a similar Israeli boycott. The AUT later rescinded the decision in the face of international criticism.

“Once again, a group of British academics is targeting Israel, only this time their goals are even more insidious,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Members of this union are being told that it’s acceptable to boycott Israeli scholars on the basis of their nationality and to question them about their political views. By singling out Israel, these activists are once again demonstrating the anti-Semitic agenda which lies at the heart of the boycott movement.”

NATFHE Resolution 198C, a copy of which was obtained by JTA, cites “continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices. It recalls its motion of solidarity last year for the AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility.”

The resolution further “invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.”

It is one of two resolutions relating to Israel. The other asks British academics to support Palestinian colleagues in the face of “the continual attacks by Israel’s government” and to reaffirm that support by contacting the Palestinian Authority government. The United States and European Union have cut off contact with the Palestinian Authority now that it is run by the terrorist group Hamas.

The American Jewish Committee has re-upped on its anti-boycott fund, launched last year to help combat the AUT resolution. The group last week pledged an additional $10,000 to the fund.

“The track record from the experience with the AUT showed that a variety of tools need to be used to combat this type of boycott, and one of them is that people have the ability to sue or at least assert their legal rights,” said Kenneth Stern, a specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism at the AJCommittee. “We’re raising funds to help whoever is impacted by this to fight it in any way possible. They shouldn’t have to bear the cost.”

The teachers association, which is planning a summer merger with the AUT, won’t comment on the motion “unless and until it is certain that it will be discussed at the conference.”

“It’s an emergency motion,” NATFHE spokesman Trevor Phillips told JTA. “Not all emergency motions are discussed. This one is in some doubt because of procedural issues.”

The American Jewish Congress has made it possible for those who oppose the boycott to automatically generate e-mail letters to NATFHE and AUT leaders. So far, 1,500 e-mails have been sent.

“NATFHE’s proposed resolutions are indefensible,” said AJCongress’ executive director, Neil Goldstein. “One resolution advocates support of the Palestinian government run by Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization that proudly takes credit for the murder of innocent Israeli civilians. This support of terrorism reveals the one-sided political nature of the NATFHE resolutions and the moral blindness of its statements on the tragic Middle East conflict.”

In Britain, efforts are under way among some anti-boycott members of NATFHE to lobby against the motion, a model based on the effort that overturned last year’s AUT measure.

“The important grass-roots work has to be done by people who are members of the union,” said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “We are certainly keeping a close eye on what’s going on and providing whatever assistance we can in terms of logistical help.”

He added, “It’s like bush fires: You think you’ve put it out and then it pops up somewhere else. It’s going to be a constant thing.”

The World Jewish Congress said it was “deeply upset” by the NATFHE motion. So did other institutions.

“Any boycott call that is based on whether Israeli academics support their government’s policy is like the AUT call last year — discriminatory, and effectively an anti-Semitic act,” Ronnie Fraser of Academic Friends of Israel said in a letter posted on the Bar-Ilan University Web site. Bar-Ilan was one of two Israeli universities specifically targeted by last year’s AUT resolution, while this year’s NATFHE motion would affect all Israeli academic institutions.

Meanwhile, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East launched an online petition to oppose the resolution.

“Academic boycott actions are antithetical not only to the principles of academic freedom, but also to the quest for peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” the petition said. “Those who perpetuate and participate in such boycotts are separating themselves from the academic community as opposed to bringing it together to work for peace and support academic freedom.”

Letters to NATFHE and AUT can be sent through http://www.ajcongress.org/Action-Alert.asp.

To contribute to the AJCommittee fund, checks should be made payable to the AJC Anti-Boycott Fund and sent to AJC Anti-Boycott Fund, 165 East 56th Street, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10022. Donations can be made online at http://www.ajc.org.

The Scholars for Peace in the Middle East petition is available at http://www.spme.net/cgi-bin/display_petitions.cgi?ID=2.

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