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Northern Ireland academics to boycott Israeli universities in Palestine protest

By Lesley Houston

Published 28/10/2015

Professor Phil Scraton
Professor Phil Scraton

A number of leading Northern Ireland academics have signed up to an international campaign to boycott Israeli universities over Israel's "illegal occupation" of Palestinian land.

Five academics at Queen's University and one retired Ulster University professor are among 343 academics from the UK who have pledged to withdraw co-operation with Israeli academic institutions.

In a full-page advertisement in yesterday's Guardian newspaper, some of the UK's most prominent figures in higher education underscored their response to "the appeal from Palestinian civil society" with an "Academic Commitment".

In their response to "the intolerable human rights violations that it inflicts on all sections of the Palestinian people" the signatories have declared they will not "accept invitations to visit Israeli academic institutions".

The academics do stress, however, that they will "continue to work with our Israeli colleagues in their individual capacities" but in their declaration describe Israeli universities as being "deeply complicit" with Israeli violations of international law.

The pledge states the educationalists' position will remain "until the State of Israel complies with international law, and respects universal principles of human rights".

Motivated by a "deep concern" for Palestinians the unprecedented step has been taken with "great reluctance", according to Queen's University Professor Phil Scraton. The criminology professor - also a member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, following his investigative work into the 1989 disaster - stressed yesterday the undertaking was "not done in a flippant way".

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "Of course it's appropriate for academics to speak out. I speak out on Hillsborough, I speak out regularly on the prison service."

At pains to stress the "very carefully worded" document should not be misconstrued, he said: "It's about an international movement of academics making their position clear.

"We believe in academic freedom and the right within that academic freedom to make a clear statement about what we are prepared to do and what we are not prepared to do. It's not saying that we won't work with individual Israelis and I don't hold individuals among my brother and sister academics in Israel responsible; that's not the case." He said it was drawn up after "very deep and hard" consideration of the "sensitive issue".

An Ulster University spokesman said that Prof Bill Rolston, who also signed the declaration, was "expressing his own personal and individual views."

Speaking for the organisers of the Academic Commitment, Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, of the London School of Economics, said: "Israeli universities are at the heart of Israel's violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinian people. We will be conducting a campaign across the country's universities over the coming months, and inviting fellow academics to contact us if they wish to sign the commitment."

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