A group of 343 scholars in the UK called on their peers to boycott Israeli academic institutions in a advertisement they published in The Guardian on Tuesday.
“We will maintain this position until the State of Israel complies with international law, and respects universal principles of human rights,” the ad in the British daily said.
In the text of the petition, which is called “a commitment by UK scholars to the rights of Palestinians,” the academics pledged not to publicly cooperate with universities and colleges in the Jewish state, although they said they would continue to communicate with individual Israeli scholars.
They stated that they would refuse to visit Israeli academic institutions, referee any Israeli academic process and participate in any conference that was funded, organized or sponsored by them.
“As scholars associated with British universities, we are deeply disturbed by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the intolerable human rights violations that it inflicts on all sections of the Palestinian people, and its apparent determination to resist any feasible settlement,” the scholars said.
Those who signed the petition, did so as individual scholars and did not formally represent their respective institutions of higher learning.
The United Kingdom government took a public stand against the petition.
“The British government firmly opposes calls to boycott Israel. We are deeply committed to promoting the UK’s academic and scientific ties with Israel, as part of the flourishing partnership between the two countries,” Britain’s Ambassador to Israel David Quarrey said. “The reality is one of rapidly strengthening trade and tech links between Britain and Israel.”
Quarrey said that just as Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said, “the UK government will never allow those who want to boycott Israel to shut down 60 years worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make both our countries stronger.”
Israel’s embassy said in response that it was particularly callous of the academics to issue their statement in a month when there had been 45 Palestinian attacks against Israelis, in which 11 people had been killed and close to 100 wounded.
“Divisive boycott initiatives such as this one serve only to sow hatred, alienating the sides rather than promoting coexistence,” the embassy said.
Ronnie Fraser, director of Academic Friends of Israel, said the number of signers represents less than a quarter of 1 percent of the 194,245 academics working in the United Kingdom, which he said constituted a “statistically insignificant minority.”
But on their web page the scholars called on their peers to join them.
This is a “decisive new step in the development of the worldwide movement to hold Israel, and its institutions, responsible for its violations of international law and discrimination against its Palestinian citizens,” the authors said.
They also listed examples of research or land confiscation by Israeli universities that they believe makes them complicit.
It added that it was acting in response to calls from the Palestinian civil society to take actions, and listed on its site, the web pages for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Prof. Jane Hardy of the University of Hertfordshire said that signing the petition was an opportunity to hold “Israel accountable for its human rights abuses.”
She added, that “it does not call for the termination of links with individual colleagues nor the end of dialogue, rather it is a boycott of institutions directly or indirectly complicit in the systematic and illegal occupation of Palestine.”
The petition is part of the overall debate with the British academic and artistic community over Israel. On Thursday, some 150 people from the British arts world, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, signing a letter against the BDS movement that was published in The Guardian
In February, some 700 British artists pledged to boycott Israel.
Simon Johnson, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said the signatories “have ignored their colleagues from over 30 universities who have actively engaged, through BIRAX (Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership), in scientific cooperation with researchers in Israeli institutions, as well as the calls of the 150 writers, artists and musicians who last week promoted the benefits of continuing dialogue with Israel.”
He charged that academics who favored boycotting Israel were looking for publicity rather than inclusive academic debate.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK, who is also a former chairwoman of Rabbis for Human Rights, also condemned the boycott.
“Academic boycotts are detrimental to peace efforts between Palestinians and Israelis. Stamping out academic dialogue is a divisive tactic.
Discriminatory boycotts such as this cement different sides of the conflict. What the region now desperately needs is a movement of supporters towards peace and a two-state solution, where Israelis and Palestinians can live in security, peace and dignity,” she said.JTA and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.