On April 22nd, 2005, the Council of Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to boycott two Israeli universities: University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. The AUT Council claimed to boycott Bar-Ilan because it offers courses at Ariel College and “is thus directly involved with the occupation of Palestinian territories contrary to United Nations resolution.” The University of Haifa was targeted because of claims that the university had wrongly disciplined a lecturer.
The AUT’s decision was immediately condemned by Jewish groups and many members of the AUT. The presidents of Jerusalem-based al-Quds University and Hebrew University issued a joint statement:
“Bridging political gulfs – rather than widening them further apart – between nations and individuals thus becomes an educational duty as well as a functional necessity, requiring exchange and dialogue rather than confrontation and antagonism. Our disaffection with, and condemnation of acts of academic boycotts and discrimination against scholars and institutions, is predicated on the principles of academic freedom, human rights, and equality between nations and among individuals.”
Zvi Ravner, Israel’s deputy ambassador to the UK, commented that “last time that Jews were boycotted in universities was in 1930s Germany.” The British National Postgraduate Committee also voted to oppose the boycott. Project officer Andre Oboler said that the boycott “runs contrary to our objective, which is to advance in the public interest the education of postgraduate students within the UK”.
Finally, members of the AUT gathered enough signatures to call a special meeting on the subject. The meeting was held on May 26th, 2005, at Friends Meeting House in London. Supporters of rival positions gathered on the streets outside this meeting. At the meeting the AUT membership decided to cancel the boycott of both Israeli universities, citing damage to academic freedom, the hampering of dialogue and peace effort between Israelis and Palestinians, and that boycotting Israel alone could not be justified.