Academics from Israel visited Birmingham yesterday to protest against a proposed boycott of their universities by British lecturers.
The move comes days before lecturers' union the Association of University Teachers votes whether to sever academic links with two Israeli institutions on the grounds of alleged human rights' abuses.
Moves to enforce the boycott of the Bar-Ilan and Haifa universities have been led by Sue Blackwell, an English lecturer at Birmingham University.
At a heated meeting in the back room of a pub in Selly Oak yesterday, three Israeli professors made a plea for British academics not to interfere in the hotbed of Middle East politics.
Jonathan Rynhold, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan, said: "We have come over here to oppose the decision of the AUT to boycott Israeli institutions.
"We feel it is a threat to academic freedom and singles out Israel. It is not based on the facts and is counter-productive to all efforts to build peace and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians."
Wendy Sandler, professor of linguistics at Haifa, added: "It is really sad and dangerous for trade unions and any academic organisation to hijack academia in order to promote a political agenda."
Haifa University is accused of "disregarding academic freedom" by threatening to sack and put on trial a senior lecturer who backed a student thesis alleging Israeli army abuses. Bar-Ilan has been criticised for supervising degrees at a college established in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Ms Blackwell defended the proposed boycott.
"Israeli academics have said to me you can't stay out of politics in Israel. Trade unions have a right to show solidarity with whoever they want to."
The boycott, passed at the AUT annual conference, is to be debated before a special council meeting on Thursday.