University lecturers in Britain voted last month to overturn a controversial boycott of Israeli institutions.
In April, the Association of University Teachers approved a motion to sever all academic links with two Israeli universities — the University of Haifa for alleged violations of academic freedom and Bar Ilan University for developing programs with a college operating in the occupied West Bank territory. Both universities have denied the claims.
The boycott would have encouraged AUT members to "refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration, or joint projects" with the two institutions.
But last month, at an AUT special council meeting, delegates voted overwhelmingly to "revoke all existing boycotts of Israeli institutions."
In a statement released May 26, AUT said delegates supported a motion calling for a review of the organization's international policy with the aim of "providing practical solidarity to Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists and academics."
Jon Pike, a senior philosophy lecturer at the Open University and the founder of an anti-boycott group, said he was "relieved" at the decision.
He said he was sympathetic to the Palestinian cause but that he opposed the boycott because it was an "infringement of academic freedom and contributed nothing towards peaceful resolution of the conflict."
David Hirsh, from Goldsmiths College in London, also welcomed the policy reversal, saying: "A boycott is a tokenistic gesture which does more harm than good. "The need for hard work, building links with Palestinian and Israeli academics, is less glamorous but much more important."
Supporters of the boycott, however, vowed to continue their fight.
"This is the start, not the end, as far as the boycott campaign is concerned," said Sue Blackwell, an English lecturer at Birmingham University, who proposed the original boycott.
"We have put this issue firmly on the map and we have shown that people in British academia do care about what is happening in the occupied territories.
"We won the moral argument. They just won the vote."
Another boycott supporter, Steven Rose of the Open University, told the meeting that he was born and raised an orthodox Jew and has spent his life fighting anti-Semitism.
"During the 1930s, Jewish academics in Germany were being expelled from their universities and fleeing the country," he said. "And British academics continued to deal normally with them as if what was happening was something not to be spoken about in polite society. We have no right to remain silent, to treat Israel as if it were a normal state."
Sally Hunt, general secretary of AUT, said: "It is now time to build bridges between those with opposing views here in the UK and to commit to supporting trade unionists in Israel and Palestine working for peace."