US lawmakers Wednesday slammed a boycott of Israeli universities promoted by pro-Palestinian British academics as an anti-Semitic step that would undermine Middle East peace efforts.
In a unanimous voice vote, the House of Representatives passed a resolution attacking the boycott call from the leadership of the University and College Union (UCU), Britain's largest trade union for academics.
"When Israel comes under attack from hatemongers, it is American values that are also under attack," said Democratic member Patrick Murphy, the resolution's main sponsor.
"Limiting academic exchanges and shrinking the marketplace of ideas only limits our ability to bring peace to the Middle East and to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said.
If adopted by the UCU's full membership, the initiative could see British academics no longer writing for journals published by Israeli universities and refusing travel to Israel for conferences.
In May, the UCU leadership said "Israel's 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement."
But Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the planned boycott "represents a dangerous assault on the principles of academic freedom and open exchanges."
"The boycotting of Israeli academics only serves to demonize the state of Israel," she said, while Democrat Sheila Jackson-Lee accused the UCU of "anti-Semitism."
The UCU's call has been condemned by both the British and Israeli governments, as well as more than 250 other British academics who took out a full-page advertisement in The Times in May to attack the boycott.
The Transport and General Workers Union, which has 800,000 members across Britain, voted at its annual conference last week to shun products from Israel.
"As with South Africa, a boycott played a key part in liberating that country from apartheid," said Barry Camfield, the union's assistant general secretary.
"Now, we work to liberate the Palestinian people from their suffering at the hands of the Israeli state's military machine."
But Britain's National Union of Journalists has decided against implementing a resolution by its members to boycott Israeli goods and services, rejecting "firmly any allegations that the union was anti-Semitic or racist."
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