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A delegation of senior Israeli academics are returning to Israel on Friday after a successful week of meetings with their British counterparts and with parliamentarians and journalists in an effort to persuade academics and members of the University and College Union (UCU) to reject proposals to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
Two boycott motions are expected to be on the agenda of the UCU, the largest professional association for lecturers and researchers in British higher education, at their annual conference at the end of May.
The Israelis' trip was organized by the Fair Play Campaign Group (FPCG,) part of the Board of Deputies of British Jews' campaign to combat initiatives to boycott Israel, together with the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB,) set up by Bar-Ilan University in 2005 to respond to calls for boycotts of Israeli academics.
The delegation consisted of Prof. Miriam Shlesinger of Bar-Ilan University, former head of Amnesty International in Israel and the target of a 2002 boycott when she was removed from the editorial staff of a prestigious journal by a long-time academic colleague at Manchester University on the basis of her Israeli citizenship. Shlesinger was joined by Prof. Zvi HaCohen, chairman of Israel's University Faculty Association, Prof. Daphna Erdinast-Vulkan of Haifa University and English-born Dr. Jonathan Rynhold of Bar-Ilan University.
While the delegation's members hold widely differing beliefs, they are united in their belief that an academic boycott would be politically and academically counterproductive.
"A boycott against Israel... discriminates against individual people and individual institutions and it [would] deprive me of my academic freedom," Shlesinger said.
Rynhold said that the IAB has "worked hard to galvanize Israeli academia to confront the threat of the boycott."
With the support of the UK Jewish community, Rynhold said, the delegation hoped to bring its message to British academia - that a boycott would ultimately work against peace and reconciliation.
An FPCG spokesman said that the Israeli representatives had "taken their perspective into the heart of the pro-boycott camp and made a huge contribution to our collective work to promote academic freedom and oppose discrimination in this country."
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