UK minister slams academic boycott

In visit to Hebrew U., Rammell calls UCU boycott "fundamentally wrong."

anti-israel 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
anti-israel 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
British universities unanimously oppose the boycott initiative of the British Union of Colleges and Universities, according to Prof. James Drummond Bone, head of the organization of university executives, Universities UK. "We've canvassed the board" of UUK members, made up of the leaders of British universities, "and there's no support at all for the initiative," Bone told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "I'd be very surprised if the boycott went ahead. There are better things for the UCU to be discussing." Bone, who is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, also expressed "absolute confidence" that the discussion engendered by the boycott recommendation issued May 30 by the UCU would ultimately result in its reversal. "It has very little support in the UK, [contrary to] what people think." At a meeting with Knesset Education Committee Chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), Bone promised to deliver the same message in the British parliament on Tuesday, according to Melchior. Bone was on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with Britain's Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education Bill Rammell on a trip designed to convey the British government's and universities' rejection of the UCU decision. Rammell, whose position is analogous to an Israeli deputy minister, came at the personal request of Prime Minister Tony Blair. "A boycott is fundamentally wrong," Rammell said during a press conference at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, adding his hope that his visit "sends a strong message of the views of the British government and people." A boycott would hinder the globalization of higher education and prevent colleges and universities from bringing together people of various different nationalities, he added. While he admitted that Britain and Israel have "differences over which discussion is necessary, boycotting is not the way and does not help promote dialogue between moderates on both sides." He said he planned to hold a seminar in London to discuss ways to promote the peace process with Israeli, Palestinian and British journalists. On their visit Sunday, Rammell and Bone met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and Melchior. "Rammell said clear and important things," Melchior told the Post after their meeting. "The very fact that the minister came is a positive and appropriate message on the part of the British government. I'm very encouraged by it." But, he added, "the [Israeli] response must not be what some among us are calling for, counter-boycotts and such. The correct response is to strengthen ties on all levels, with academic and scientific ties first among them. I'm happy that's the attitude of our universities." These sentiments were echoed by Tamir. "This visit was a significant act," she said. Rammell and Bone "came to say this [boycott] is not legitimate, and I expressed great appreciation that the [British] government has opposed it." Tamir also said she believed "Israel is doing what it should be doing, encouraging academic cooperation through diplomacy and the universities. We're showing that academic freedom can't be used as a political tool." Livni told Rammell that the "extremists" in the UCU "are trying to exploit the political situation and have no idea about Israel's values and the challenges the country faces on a daily basis." Livni said she hoped Rammell's visit would "help to bridge the gap between image and reality." According to a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Livni and Rammell discussed launching academic cooperation initiatives that would serve to confound the boycott advocates, such as joint conferences, a visit by British university heads in Israel, and a renewal of Britech, the joint foundation of the British and Israeli governments that supported cooperation in the high-tech sector before it was closed down in 2006. In the final analysis, Melchior said, "this academic boycott could be a good thing. It will boomerang and strengthen our connection [with British academia]. Right now in England, all the serious papers and public officials are opposed to it."