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Israeli plan for West Bank university fuels boycott debate in British academia

The Israeli cabinet this week approved the upgrade of settlement-located Ariel University Center to full university, drawing a rebuke from Britain's Foreign Office.

By Correspondent / September 14, 2012



London

Relations between Israel and one of its closest European allies dipped this week when Britain joined Washington and the European Union in trying to stave off a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran's nuclear program. But it isn't just Iran that is straining Israeli-British ties.

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In less-noticed comments, Britain’s foreign secretary spoke out in unusually strong terms against the Israeli cabinet’s decision to approve the upgrade of Ariel University Center – officially a college, at present – to full-fledged university, the first in a settlement in the West Bank.

William Hague said that the decision “would lead to the creation of Israel’s first university beyond the Green Line, in a settlement illegal under international law. It would further entrench the presence of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and create an additional barrier to peace with the Palestinians.”

In Britain, home to some of the Palestinians’ most active international support groups, campaigners have been ramping up pressure each year for a boycott of Israeli universities. Now, they believe the current focus on Ariel University Center could boost their efforts.

“I think it makes a difference that Ariel is part of the university system, because of the idea of an academic going to the occupied territories, going to what is effectively a settlement built on stolen land and essentially giving a conference paper behind barbed wire,” says John Chalcraft of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), a group of UK-based academics who support calls for a boycott of Israeli institutions.

“I think that will make a larger constituency feel more uncomfortable and complicit if they try to do business in that context.”

Dr. Chalcraft, a professor in history and politics at the London School of Economics, maintains that the boycott campaign, which has been the focus of heated debate at annual conferences of Britain's largest trade union representing lecturers and academics, has been gaining steady support. Chalcraft compares it to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement that targeted apartheid-era South Africa from the 1960s onwards.

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