Saturday, April 23, 2005

Academic Embargo

Came across this BBC piece reports that a teacher union, Association of University Teachers (AUT), decided to boycott two universities (Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities) in Israel because:

"They were complicit in a system of "apartheid" towards Palestinians, delegates at the AUT's council heard... Delegates voted for more dialogue with Palestinian academics and unions. However, they voted down a call by the union's executive to establish contact with a group called the Israeli Higher Education Union. "

The executives of Brittain universities, Universities UK (UUK), issued this statement:
"UUK condemns the resolution from AUT which is inimical to academic freedom, including the freedom of academics to collaborate with other academics."
This was found at AUT website confirming the BBC report:
Israel universities - statement by AUT general secretary Sally Hunt

AUT Council today decided to boycott Haifa University and the Bar-Ilan University. The executive committee will issue guidance to AUT members on these decisions. Council delegates also referred a call to boycott the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the executive committee will investigate the background to this and will report in due course. Council delegates also agreed to circulate to all local associations a statement from Palestinian organisations calling for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

Whether the two mentioned Israel universities are guilty of the accusation is beyond the point and irrelevant. It is about academic freedom. [Side note: Even if the universities are guilty of the charge, would it be better and more effective to engage them in dialogue rather than severing all contact]. It is quite obvious that the AUT is taking the side of the Palestinian on the Palestinian-Israel issue. I thought that a teacher union main function is to look out for the interest of teachers who are members of the union, not to engage in political activism. This is an unethical use of membership union due. Of course the larger issue is academic freedom and a free exchange of idea. It may be permissible to criticize Israel, Israel's policy, or even Israel's academic institutions; but an act of boycotting an academic institution is an anathema. The AUT is afterall an organization consisting of educators, for educators, about educators, people who are supposed to be opened mind. I am disgusted, aren't you?
The email address of point of contact for AUT press is David Nicholson. You can email him at press@aut.org.uk . The main email for AUT is hq@aut.org.uk .

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