The union that represents academics in the UK has announced today it will not proceed with plans to debate a boycott of Israeli universities following legal advice.
The University and College Union, whose members passed a motion at its conference in May to circulate and discuss a call to boycott, has been told by lawyers that the move would be unlawful.
Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, has called a halt to a proposed regional tour to discuss the issue with members. Branches are to be told that making a call to boycott Israeli institutions would "run a serious risk" of infringing discrimination legislation.
The boycott call was also deemed to be outside the aims and objectives of the union.
Delegates at the UCU conference voted by 158 to 99 in favour of a motion to recommend boycotts in protest at Israel's "40-year occupation" of Palestinian land and to condemn the "complicity" of Israeli academics.
However, lawyers told the union that while members were free to debate Israeli policies, it should not spend resources on gauging opinion of something that should not be implemented.
The union said it would now consider ways to press ahead with the non-boycott elements of the motion, such as ending joint projects between UK and Israeli academics.
This decision of the UCU's actually leaves me with somewhat mixed feelings. I have always opposed the boycott, so I am happy to learn that it will not be going ahead. However, I would much prefer the pro-boycott campaign to have collapsed due to lack of support from within British academia, rather than simply because it infringed anti-discrimination laws. Had it collapsed as a result of opposition from within the UCU, then that would have indicated that the majority of British academics were not rabidly anti-Israel. As it is, we are left with the distinct possibility (and, indeed, the strong impression) that the majority of our university professors would love to push ahead and boycott Israel, and that only the law is stopping them from doing so.
On a related topic, I would like to point readers in the direction of two posts at Melanie Phillips's blog, describing some of the ways in which left-wing teachers feed anti-Israel propaganda to our children, under the guise of teaching "citizenship". Well worth a read.