18 мая 2005
London, May 18 -- Britain's new Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Kim Howells has intervened in the boycott of two Israeli universities on behalf of the Zionist lobby by issuing a statement, declaring that the UK government "fully supports academic freedom." The intervention by the former chair of Labour Friends of Israel comes after a campaign led by the Board of Deputies and other leading Jewish organizations to discredit last month's landmark boycott decision by the Association of University Teachers (AUT). "I welcome the fact that the AUT is to reconsider, on 26 May, its decision to boycott Bar Ilan and Haifa universities," Howells said in his second official statement since taking up his new post 10 days ago. He added that he hoped the union, which represents over 48,700 British higher educational professionals, "will ensure the issue is fully debated and will invite the two universities to express their views." The decision to review the boycott came after the request of 25 members of the AUT council that an emergency meeting of the executive board is held next week on the issue. The Foreign Office Minister insisted that the British Government fully supports academic freedom and "appreciates the independence of the AUT." "But as a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians, we believe that we can best encourage both sides to take the steps needed for progress through close engagement to achieve a peaceful resolution," he argued. Britain's biggest university lecturers' union passed a resolution at its annual conference in Eastbourne, southern England, on April 22 to boycott the two universities because of their refusal to condemn their regime's actions in the occupied territories. At the conference, the proposal was not backed by the AUT executive. Instead, it unsuccessfully called for contacts to be made to discuss their differences. The decision to sever all links and joint projects with Bar Ilan and Haifa universities, came after a motion to boycott all 8 of Israel's universities failed two years ago.