May 31, 2007 / 3:45 PM / 12 years ago

Israel denounces British academic boycott call

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel sharply criticized on Thursday a decision by Britain’s main college teachers’ union to promote a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The government, leading Israeli academics and newspapers all condemned the proposal, with some commentators saying they saw anti-Semitism and the influence of Britain’s growing Muslim community behind the latest boycott call.

The British government distanced itself from the move, which follows a boycott call from the country’s main journalists union in April that also provoked widespread Israeli anger. The boycott call has however been criticized by some union members.

The British public service workers union, the largest union in the UK, is also set to propose a boycott on Israel at its annual conference next month, reports in Israel said.

The University and College Union, an association of British college professors and lecturers, passed a motion on Wednesday that its 120,000 members discuss a boycott of Israeli universities.

The motion proposed that the union would send the “full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches for information and discussion”.

“We find it strange that British academics believe boycotting is a way to encourage dialogue and peace ... and believe in boycotting the only Middle East country that has a truly independent and free academia,” said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with the British ambassador to Israel on Monday and said that both governments opposed the call to boycott.

“The UK government fully supports academic freedom and is firmly against any academic boycotts of Israel or Israeli academics. I profoundly believe this does nothing to promote the Middle East peace process,” said Bill Rammell, a British education minister.

“It’s actually an attempt to delegitimize the very existence of Israel. It is outrageous and against the spirit of academia,” said Menachem Magidor, President of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

A group of Palestinian academics have accused Israel’s academia of being “in direct or indirect collusion with the military intelligence establishment, providing it with ‘academic’ research services to sustain its oppression”.

Previous decisions by British academics to boycott Israeli universities and colleges were overturned.

Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi

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