The 'boycott' of Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities:
Palestinian and US academics condemn move

Published: 4 May 2005
Briefing Number 140

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Summary: On 22 April 2005 the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted by a narrow majority to boycott the Israeli universities of Haifa and Bar-Ilan. The teachers’ union vote was greeted by a deluge of protest from academic institutions, eminent individuals in the world of higher education, student groups and alumni groups. This Briefing highlights condemnations of the AUT boycott:

- by the Palestinian University of Al Quds in Jerusalem

- by the American Association of University Professors

and a startling (and effective) response by a prominent academic linguist.

The AUT ‘boycott’ motion

The motion to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan was proposed by academic linguist Dr Sue Blackwell, of Birmingham University in the UK. The motion claimed that Haifa had discriminated against a Haifa faculty member; and that Bar-Ilan was associated with an educational institution on the West Bank. These claims were dismissed as false and /or irrelevant by both universities; and it was argued that in any event a boycott was completely unjustified.

Worldwide protests ensue

Israelis and Jewish communities worldwide reacted with outrage to the AUT move. They protested that the boycott was ideologically motivated and based on false information; that it was hypocritical, biased and blinkered; that it harmed Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, and that it threatened to damage Israeli scientific and humanitarian projects. They also argued that the AUT motion had been passed using improper procedures, with no due process.

The most prominent argument against the boycott was that it violated the principle of that there should be free exchange of people and ideas in the worldwide academic community.

Palestinian Al-Quds University in Jerusalem – “build bridges not blocks”

The Palestinian university of Al Quds in Jerusalem released the following statement condemning the boycott (reported in the Jerusalem Post, 29 April 2005):

“We are informed by the principle that we should seek to win Israelis over to our side, not to win against them….. Therefore, informed by this national duty, we believe it is in our interest to build bridges, not walls; to reach out to the Israeli academic institutions, not to impose another restriction or dialogue-block on ourselves….”

American Association of University Professors (AAUP) – academic freedom must be upheld

The following statement was published on the AAUP website:

“We reject proposals to curtail the freedom of teachers and researchers to engage in work with academic colleagues, and we reaffirm the paramount importance of the freest possible international movement of scholars and ideas. The AAUP urges the AUT to support the right of all in the academic community to communicate freely with other academics on matters of professional interest.”

American academic Stanley Lubinsky makes Sue Blackwell herself subject to the AUT boycott

Stanley Lubinsky, a scholar at the University of South Carolina, is book review editor of the academic journal ‘Language’, which covers the field in which boycott campaign leader Dr Sue Blackwell works. In response to the AUT move, Lubinsky obtained an immediate academic affiliation to Bar-Ilan University. He then contacted the AUT and requested that his name be added to the list of academics to whom the boycott pertains.

In an email exchange which is in the public domain, Lubinksy then pointed out that if Sue Blackwell submitted a book for review in the journal, or submitted a book review, she would be in breach of the AUT boycott. Lubinsky wrote (in a email to British academics), that in light of his move:

“members of the AUT will have to choose between advancement of their academic careers and a violation of the AUT boycott…”

He confirmed that he would not himself boycott anyone (as he would uphold academic freedom), but he would advise British correspondents and colleagues of the dilemma in which the AUT boycott places contributors to ‘Language’.


As at the date of publication, intensive activity is underway to revoke the AUT boycott. Whatever the final outcome, the boycott has resulted in a startling restatement of core principles of academic freedom. Israeli universities are bastions of academic freedom, and thousands of Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs take the full benefit of the opportunities which Israeli universities offer. The misguided boycott campaign by British academics may, ironically, serve to remind a large international audience of these underlying facts.

Other Beyond Images resources

Briefing 30 – Boycotting Israeli Academics