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Eighty-six percent of key British business, cultural and political leaders oppose an academic boycott of Israel, according to a poll published on Wednesday.
Nearly 1,000 leaders who help shape the mood of Britain were questioned in the poll conducted by the Populus network for the Stop the Boycott campaign, which is led by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre and the Fair Play Campaign Group.
Only 14% of respondents support a boycott, while 84% of those from academia and NGOs believe it "flies in the face of academic freedom." In addition, 80% think that it is an "unreasonable" way to express disapproval with Israel's relationship with the Palestinians and 70% think a boycott would be bad for Britain.
The Populus network brought together senior opinion makers from business; government, including civil servants and political advisers; media professionals including journalists, commentators and public relations specialists; and officials from NGOs including trade unions and think tanks.
Lorna Fitzsimons, chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre and co-director of the Stop the Boycott coalition, said: "The vast majority oppose an academic boycott because it flies in the face of the deeply held principle that academic freedom - the freedom to talk and engage with each other - is valued by the British people. Our business, cultural, and political leaders all share the view that a boycott will be damaging to Britain and damage the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
Jeremy Newmark from the Fair Play Campaign Group and co-director of the coalition, said: "It is extremely encouraging that there is a broad and deep sense across our business, academia and political leadership that an academic boycott would be damaging to Britain and her standing in the world - as well as a blow to academic freedom. This poll further emphasizes the need for the whole membership of the UCU to vote on an academic boycott. The executive should call a referendum."
The recent University and College Union motion to consider a boycott of Israeli universities has been widely condemned by UK politicians of all parties, trade unionists, Palestinian groups and academics.
The Stop the Boycott coalition was formed in response to the UCU boycott call. The coalition comprises academics, and Jewish and non-Jewish groups.
Under the banner, "The boycott is bad for Britain, bad for academic freedom and bad for the Palestinians," the coalition has called on Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, to honor her pledge to call a full ballot of all 120,000 members on the matter, which they say is too important to be left to political activists.