Academic Boycott of Israel condemned by Lib Dems

September 21, 2007 2:44 PM
Gaza Strip

Boycott not the way to stop conflict in the Middle East

This week the Liberal Democrats at their bi-annual conference in Brighton voted to approve a motion condemning calls by the University and College Union (UCU) earlier this year to boycott Israeli academics. Mark Hunter, speaking as the party's Deputy Foreign Affairs spokesperson, supported the motion and criticised the boycott as being illiberal and against the very fundamentals on which academia is based. The motion was also condemned by the Party Leader Sir Menzies Campbell, as well as a wide selection of MPs, Councillors and other party officials.

Delegates agreed to call for the UCU to abandon their plans to discuss a boycott of Israeli academics and Universities because of the negative impact that it might have on the peace process and on the free interchange of ideas that underpins academia. They described the proposed boycott as counter-productive, and an example of tokenistic political action that will only make the situation worse for both Palestinian and Israeli academics and students.

Speaking after the debate Mr Hunter MP said, "I am glad that the party supported both the movers of the motion and the Foreign Affairs team by voting for this motion. The idea of an academic boycott in this case would stand against the very liberal values for which we stand. It would limit the freedom of academics to collaborate with each other regardless of background or nationality, and actually punishes people for actions over which they have no control. As I said during my speech, we should no more punish Israeli academics for their Government's policies than we should, for example, punish Manchester University for our Government's decision to go to war with Iraq.

I also firmly believe that the UCU's motion is counter productive. By attempting to block dialogue between academics you hinder the peace process, rather than help it. Peace in the Middle East can only be encouraged through open discussion, and it is academic links that often provide the opportunities for the exchange of ideas and the building of relationships that can allow this debate to take place. The UCU's motion would also hurt the very people that they are trying to help, isolating Israeli Universities will only make it more difficult for both Palestinian and Israeli students to access the University education for which the UCU is fighting. The boycott is ill-though out and will only alienate Israelis who want to engage in dialogue, I therefore hope that the UCU will abandon any idea of a boycott."

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