National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education Case Study

In May 2006 the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) passed a motion to boycott Israeli academics who did not vocally speak out against their government:

“The conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies. The conference notes continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices. It recalls its motion of solidarity last year for the AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility.[Brian Klug]”

The motion was dismissed by the AUT, the union into which the NATFHE was currently joining.

Overall four attempts were made to pass pro-boycott motions at the annual conferences of the NATFHE, but threatened by legal action on the one hand, and opposed by all University heads on the other, they failed to gain ground.

Eight Nobel laureates slammed the policy before it was passed, calling it an attack on academic freedom. Others joined in as well.

“The primary value of the scientific community is pursuit of understanding through free and open discourse. The clarity of that beacon to humanity should not be compromised for transient political concerns.[Frank Wilczek]”

“In short, the intention of the Natfhe motion – what it seeks and why – is obscure. But even if the policy and rationale were clear and unambiguous, there is a deeper problem with motions of this sort that prevents them from attracting a broad base of support: they rely on the false (or limited) analogy implied by the word ‘apartheid’. This is not to say that there are no points of comparison, for there are – just as there are in a host of other countries where minority ethnic and national groups are oppressed. Nor is it even to say that the suffering experienced by Palestinians is less than that endured by ‘non-whites’ in South Africa: it may or may not be (although I am not sure how to do the sums). But as I have argued elsewhere: ‘The validity of the analogy does not depend on a catalogue of atrocities, however appalling’.”[Brian Klug]

The Association of Jewish Sixthformers (AJ6) issued a press release expressing worry “about the affects of any boycott on Jewish and Israeli Sixthformers.” Specifically, AJ6 pointed to “partnerships and exchange visits with Israeli schools and colleges may be under threat”, that “Jewish students who study in Israel during their Gap Years are worried that teachers may refuse to provide them with references for these programmes.”

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement which condemned the motion explaining:

“It is profoundly unjust for academics in the only democratic country in the Middle East – the only country where scholarship and debate are permitted to freely flourish – to be held to an ideological test and the threat of being blacklisted because of their views. No one would expect a British or American professor to have to withstand such scrutiny of their political views. Yet, when it comes to Israel a different standard applies.”

The British government, through Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Lord Triesman, issued a statement that the motion was “counterproductive and retrograde” although the British Government recognized “the independence of the NATFHE.”

Paul Mackney, the general secretary of NATFHE, was sent over 15,000 messages from boycott opponents.