Legal warnings over Israeli boycott

From the archive (legacy material)

Polly Curtis | The Guardian | 25 April 2005

The head of the lecturers’ union which last week launched an academic boycott of two Israeli universities has appealed to members not to begin the boycott until they have received advice on how to do so without breaking the law.
In her first public comments since delegates at the union’s annual conference in Eastbourne last Friday narrowly voted to back the boycott, Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the Association of University Teachers (AUT), said: “The national executive will issue guidance to local associations on the implementation of the boycotts of the two Israeli universities in due course.
“Until this guidance is issued, it is stressed that members should be advised to not take any action in relation to a boycott which would place them in breach of their contract of employment.”
The Guardian has reported increasing concerns about the legality of a boycott against academics working in Israeli universities.
Before Friday’s vote, Steve Miller, the deputy vice-chancellor of City University, said there could be problems for any academic who followed the boycott.
“I would have thought that any academic treated differently on the ground of race would be in breach of their university’s equal opportunities policy,” he said. “I believe that for City University treating an Israeli academic differently on the grounds of their nationality would be in breach of our policy.”
And following the decision on Friday Jocelyn Prudence, the chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said that the boycott “would appear to run contrary to contractual law, race and religious discrimination law, and academic freedom obligations, which are built into the contracts of staff in pre-1992 universities”.
The legal precedent is unclear. In 2003 Andrew Wilkie was suspended without pay for two months from his post at Oxford University and made to take equal opportunities training after rejecting an application from an Israeli student because he had a “huge problem” with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
In 2002 Mona Baker, a linguist who sacked two Israelis from the board of a journal she edited, was cleared of any wrongdoing after an official inquiry by the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.