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U.K. union votes to keep boycott talk alive

Britain’s largest trade union for academics passed a motion to circulate Palestinian calls for an academic boycott of Israel to its branches “for information and discussion.”Wednesday’s vote by the University and College Union at its first congress in Bournemouth will require members to discuss the issue further over the next year. The motion passed by a vote of 158 to 99.In a statement, the UCU said the boycott motion means branches “have a responsibility ” to consult all of their members on the issue. UCU represents 120,000 workers in further and higher education throughout the United Kingdom.The motion passed despite comments by Sally Hunt, the union’s new general secretary, that “I do not believe a boycott is supported by the majority of UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it is a priority for the union.”The union also passed a motion to campaign for the restoration of all international aid to the Palestinian Authority and all revenues that the union says rightfully belong to the authority. Worldwide aid to the Palestinian Authority was stopped when Hamas, a terrorist group, took control of the government.Boycott opponents were outraged by the union’s vote and called for the UCU to reverse its position.”Essentially, British trade unions are declaring war on Israel,” Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic Friends of Israel, told JTA.Ofir Frankel, executive director of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom based at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, said the union “has allowed itself to act as a one-sided player in Middle Eastern politics. It is very disturbing to behold a form of singling out and discrimination happening in the U.K. – the U.K. which upholds itself as the cradle of fairness, freedom of speech and academic debate.”Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said that while the vast majority of academics do not support a boycott, “this decision damages the credibility of British academia as a whole.”In a statement, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said, “These obscene resolutions have all the faults that academics normally deplore in their profession: a superficial and flawed understanding of the subject, clear bias, and antagonism to the open exchange of ideas.”