(photo credit: )
The call for an academic boycott of Israel was slammed during the Liberal Democrat Party's annual conference in Brighton on Sunday.
With a party member of the House of Lords calling the boycott proposal "utterly misguided", a motion condemning it passed overwhelmingly. It called for University and College Union members to reject the proposal and continue to engage in "the fullest possible dialogue" with their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts.
It also urged UCU general secretary Sally Hunt to fulfill her manifesto pledge to put any pro-boycott resolution to a referendum of the union's membership.
The motion noted the boycott call was jointly condemned by professors Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, and Menachem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It said that academic freedom and the exchange of ideas are of "paramount importance," adding that it is wrong to boycott individuals on account of their nationality, "whatever policies their country's government pursues." Israeli academics "can no more be held accountable for Israeli government policy than British academics can be for British government policy," it said.
The motion called it "perverse" for academics to boycott only Israel when other countries with far worse records of academic freedom are not also to be boycotted. "Israeli universities are centers of free debate and discussion including Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians," it added.
Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament, Baroness Sarah Ludford, and Member of Parliament Lembit Opik were among a series of parliamentarians who spoke in favor of the motion condemning the boycott proposals. Only veteran pro-Palestinian campaigner Jenny Tonge and another party member not currently in office spoke against the motion.
"I am pleased though not surprised that our conference overwhelming rejected the absurd boycott idea as illiberal, counterproductive and just wrong," Ludford said.
"Firstly, freedom of academic exchange and sharing of the fruits of research is a vital liberal principle. Academics are not agents of the state, they are part of civil society. Secondly, it would be perverse in the extreme to undermine those many Israeli academics who are deeply engaged in the vigorous national debate about advancing peace and upholding human rights. Thirdly, why single out only Israelis for such treatment? Liberal Democrats recognize that on every level an academic boycott of Israel is utterly misguided," she added.
"The academic boycott... flies in the face of liberal democratic principles," said Mark Hunter MP, deputy Foreign Affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
Matthew Harris of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel said: "We brought this motion to the conference to emphasize the Liberal Democrats' opposition to the academic boycott of Israel. We are pleased and proud that the party's members have confirmed that a boycott is misguided and wrong."