Anti-boycott campaigners: Ariel upgrade is like ‘a red rag to a bull’

By Cnaan Liphshiz

The decision to upgrade the status of Ariel College to a university will greatly motivate proponents of an academic boycott of Israel, but will not change the legal realities preventing this, leading figures in the campaign against the boycott told Haaretz yesterday.

Ariel College’s upgrade – announced yesterday by Defense Minister Ehud Barak – will be a “red rag to a bull” for British academics promoting a boycott of Israel, said Ronnie Fraser of London, a leading boycott opponent.

“The reason that the University and College Union has not boycotted Israel is that its legal advisers said this would violate British anti-discrimination laws,” Fraser explained, referring to the British lecturers union.

Boycott vote voided

In the union’s annual congress in May 2009 a majority of members voted for a boycott, but Secretary General Sally Hunt said it was “void” on “legal grounds.” This was the third consecutive year that this has happened.

“Ariel College’s status does not change British law,” Fraser said.

“The upgrade underlines the entire Israeli university system as complicit in illegal occupation and theft of Palestinian lands,” said Mike Cushman of London, one of the leaders of the academic boycott campaign in the U.K. “It will galvanize efforts to boycott not only Ariel College, but other universities.”

In September, the Spanish government disqualified Arial College from an architectural competition, as it was operating “on occupied land,” in the words of one of the competition organizers for Spain’s housing ministry. So far, no European or North American university has implemented a sweeping boycott of Israel or Israeli scientists.

Dr. Sue Blackwell, one of the leaders of the campaign to boycott Israel in the U.K. and a senior representative in Britain’s lecturers union, said it was “too early to say” whether Ariel college’s upgrade would affect pro-boycott actions. This campaign began in earnest in Spring 2002, according to Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld of Jerusalem, who wrote a book on academic boycotts of Israel.

Gerstenfeld says the November vote by the board of the University of Trondheim in Norway (NTNU) on boycotting Israel was a key event. The institution’s board voted against the boycott after receiving considerable media attention and condemnations by Norwegian politicians. It was the first time a European university had held an official vote on the subject.

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