Ex-EU official condemns UK academic boycott call

Former director of EU asks for the European body to "unequivocally and rapidly" condemn the University and College Union (UCU) decision.

ADL anti boycott ad 224 (photo credit: Anti-Defamation League)
ADL anti boycott ad 224
(photo credit: Anti-Defamation League)
A former director of the European Community, the supranational economic body that is part of the European Union, has written to the president of the European Commission calling for strong action in response to the decision by a UK union to reintroduce a boycott of Israeli academia. Paul Goldschmidt, former director of the EU, has written to José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, as well as six EU commissioners, asking for the European body to "unequivocally and rapidly" condemn the University and College Union (UCU) decision. "I wish to draw your attention on the vote by the UCU of a motion calling for the reintroduction of the boycott of Israeli academia," he said. "The position taken by the UCU is totally incompatible with the EU Financial Regulation covering the basic conditions for disbursing further community funds," he continued. Goldschmidt said he hoped a strong EU position would help repeal the "incriminated" motion, and that normal academic relations could "again be pursued in all serenity." Goldschmidt cited the motion passed by the Board of Governors of Ben-Gurion University in the Negev in the immediate aftermath of the UCU vote that underlined the "UCU's blatant violation of the Statutes of the International Council of Sciences." Meanwhile on Friday, Education Minister of State Bill Rammell called on university lecturers not to boycott Israeli academics. Speaking on the final day of the UCU annual congress in Manchester, Rammell said: "Let me be clear, you are entitled to decide your policy. But I have to tell you I profoundly disagree with cutting links with Israeli academics." He said that while people could criticize Israel's decisions and policies, "academic boycotts are the complete antithesis of academic freedom." Furthermore, he said, "there is no evidence that such a strategy would further the cause of peace." The minister said that during a visit to Israel and the PA last year, he had met Palestinian academics, like the vice chancellor of Al-Quds University, who opposed an academic boycott. "I met Israeli academics engaged in welfare projects for Palestinians. Would we want to cut ourselves of initiatives like that?" he asked. "The problem is with boycotts is that they make the job of the progressives more difficult and they reinforce of the position of reactionaries," the minister concluded. Labor MP John Mann, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against anti-Semitism, responded to the boycott motion by saying, "Boycotts do nothing to bring about peace and reconciliation in the Middle East but leave Jewish students, academics and their associates isolated and victimized on UK university campuses. The All-Party Group is determined to work with all right-minded groups and individuals to defeat this attack on academic freedom." Adding his voice to the condemnations, Roger Lyons, chair of the Trade Union Friends of Israel, said it was "ironic" that "at a time when there is a genuine push for cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions and workers... the UCU has decided to be thoroughly divisive in their approach to the Middle East. "The UCU should be following the example of other UK unions who have shown support for both Israeli and Palestinian counterparts through international efforts to sign joint agreements and declarations of cooperation - most recently in the transport and manufacturing industries," Lyons declared.