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UCU academic boycott against Israel 2008

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Academic Friends of Israel: Digest vol 7 no 6

By AFI, 28 March 2008
Source: AFI E-mail

The Academic Friends of Israel

 

P.O. Box 360                                                       Email: mail@academics-for-israel.org

Harrow                                                             Website: www.academics-for-israel.org

HA3 9WY

 

March 28 2008                                                                               

Hey guess what-the Academic Boycott of Israel is back in the UK!

Last Friday at their meeting the UCU national executive committee voted in favour of a boycott motion aimed at Israeli academic Institutions which will be discussed at the UCU annual congress at the end of May. You will find the motion “Palestine and the Occupation” is at the end of the digest.

Many of you will be surprised that the motion has come from the Union’s executive, not a branch, don’t be because the UCU Left controls half the seats on the NEC and as the meeting was poorly attended it used its numbers to its advantage to push through this motion. The motion was proposed by Tom Hickey who also proposed last year’s UCU boycott motion. That was dropped last October because the union had received legal advice advising them that to continue it would run a serious risk of infringing UK discrimination legislation.

If the motion gets to Congress it will succeed because the UCU Left has an inbuilt majority with it powerbase from the ex-NATFHE Further Education Colleges. The question is will it get to Congress?

A legal challenge is quite possible as the UK Jewish community leadership has already said it will support any UCU member who wishes to make take this through the courts. Whether it does or does not make it to Congress in May, I fully expect the list of motions which will be published during the week beginning Monday 14 April to contain motions supporting Hamas and calling for an academic, or cultural boycott of Israel or even divestment. We know of this NEC motion already because it was leaked and published on the web in advance of the official list. I wouldn't bet on there being motions on the situation in Darfur or Tibet but it's a certainty there will be ones criticising Israel.

After five years of campaigning against a boycott our experiences show that our best strategy is, I believe, to respond in a low key planned way, not as we have in the past – to varying degrees of hysteria - continually giving the boycotters the oxygen of publicity that they crave. However we must not forget that the UK communities' 2007 Stop the Boycott campaign poll of key business, cultural, and political leaders showed that 15-20 percent were in favour of boycotts against Israel and will presumably in the future support any similar action against Israel. With publicity these numbers will undoubtedly grow and we ignore these figures at our peril.

We can’t beat the boycotters on the Congress floor because of their numerical voting strength, but there are other ways to win especially as we have the UK Government, our Universities and the law of the land on our side. The academic boycott campaign has never been about enforcing a boycott because serious academics want to work with their Israeli colleagues; it is a vehicle that Israel’s enemies have used to draw attention to their campaign for Israel’s destruction and delegitimisation.

Tom Hickey is like a dog with a bone over boycotts he just won’t give it up. This year he is promoting a discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued education links with Israeli academic institutions; Last year he was calling on members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions; and in 2006 at the final NATFHE Conference he was inviting members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies. Even in 2002, which may or may not have been down to him the NATFHE NEC passed a resolution urging all UK institutions of Higher and Further Education to review ­ with a view to severing ­ any academic links they might have with Israel. This is all the work of a man who to my knowledge has never been to Israel or the Palestinian territories, so all his knowledge of what goes on there has to be secondhand. Repeating yourself over the years does not make you right, calling on people to discriminate against one group of people - Jews or Israelis - is wrong and it breaks the law.

Hickey also appears to have a hang up about antisemitsm and is not sure of himself because he uses the same formula again and again regarding criticism of Israel. The 2005 NATFHE conference passed his motion that originally stated “that to criticise Israel policy or institutions is not anti-Semitic, and that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism”. The phrase “anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism” was deleted before the debate on legal advice, something he was clearly unhappy about. Last years UCU congress passed his resolution which is still on the books “that criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic. And he has returned this year with another version -“Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy is not, as such, anti-Semitism”

Hickey believes that because he criticises the State of Israel and its policies, we all tell him he is being antisemitic – Wrong. Along with his colleagues in the Socialist Workers Party and many on the Left, he will not accept that criticism of Israel is only antisemitic when Israel is being demonised or deligitimised, or whether a double standard is being applied to it. Mostly criticism of Israel like any government or country is okay, it’s when you cross that line, you are out of order.

Linda Newman, the current UCU President has surprised everyone by seconding this years UCU motion. This is a coup for the boycotters because at the time of her election last year she came out against a boycott and supported a ballot of the membership on the issue. She has changed sides only two months after returning from a visit to the West Bank as part of an official UCU delegation on a trip arranged by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. She is promoting a UCU speaking tour by Palestinian academics from the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees which supports an academic boycott of Israel. Her replacement as President from June onwards is a member of the UCU Left.

What many of us fail to understand is why, when we were led to believe the legal advice the UCU received gave them no choice but to drop the last year’s boycott Motions, that Hickey and Newman - who both must have seen the advice - have gone ahead with proposals that could breach the aims and objectives of the UCU and put the UCU's assets at risk, to say nothing of deflecting the real work of the Union. Do they know something that we don't?

It’s quite simple; if you discriminate against someone, you break the law, just ask Professor Andrew Wilkie who was punished by Oxford University in 2003 for discriminating against an Israeli who wanted to work in his research laboratory.

The time has now come for the UCU to come clean and publish the legal advice they received last year. So far they have refused to that, and until they do it is not clear where we all stand.

As I understand it the 2005 and 2007 legal advice cost the union between £250-400,000, money which it should have spent campaigning on pay and conditions for its members. It looks like the minority of UCU Left activists on the NEC are on course to cost the UCU a whole lot more of its members funds, this at a time of increased job cuts in the UK University sector and when strike action is being contemplated to support the current pay claim.

Please let me know what you think, and keep watching this space as we have two months to organise against this boycott attempt. I end by urging all of us to take account of the hard lessons learned in the past and act coolly and together.

Ronnie Fraser
Director
Academic Friends of Israel


NEC Congress motion on Palestine and the Occupation

Proposed by Tom Hickey, (SWP) seconded by Linda Newman (President of the UCU)

Conference notes the

  1. Continuation of illegal settlement, killing of civilians and the impossibility of civil life, including education;
  2. Humanitarian catastrophe imposed on Gaza by Israel and the EU
  3. Apparent complicity of the Israeli academy;

Affirms that

  • Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are not, as such, anti-semitic;
  • Pursuit and dissemination of knowledge are not uniquely immune from their moral and political consequences;

Resolves that

  1. UCU widely disseminate the personal testimonies of UCU and PFUUPE delegations to Palestine and the UK, respectively;
  2. The testimonies will be used to promote a wide discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued education links with Israeli academic institutions;
  3. UCU facilitate twinning arrangements and other direct solidarity with Palestinian institutions;
  4. Ariel College, an explicitly colonising institution in the West Bank, be investigated under the formal Greylisting Procedure.

Note: PFUUPE stands for the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees which supports an academic boycott of Israel.


Reproduced at Zionism On The Web for educational purposes only, please site the initial source as listed above


Related items:

Press Releases

2008
AFI Digest of March 28th

2007
National Postgraduate Committee (NPC)
National Union of Students (NUS)
Jewish Agency (JAFI)
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Statement from The Russell Group on UCU motion on Israeli boycott
Statement from the LSE on UCU's motion in support of an Israel boycott
Columbia University response to boycotts of Israeli universites
Board of Deputies Response to UCU academic Boycotts
American Jewish Congress response to UCU boycott
American Physiological Society Response to the British academic boycott of Israel (includes feedback on this)
National Postgraduate Committee and the Academic Boycotts (14/8/07)
University and College Union (UCU) Press Release, Boycott illegal, 28th Sept 2007
Academic Friends of Israel Press Release, 29 September 2007

News Reports

2008
Union committee to reconsider Israeli academics boycott, The Education Guardian, March 27, 2008
UK group proposes boycott of Israeli academia, Jerusalem Post, March 30, 2008

2007
A slippery slope to totalitarianism, Education Guardian, May 24, 2007
Physicist who refused to lecture in U.K.: I'm not calling for boycott, Haaretz, May 25, 2007
Livni [Israeli FM] meets with British ambassador over U.K. boycotts, Haaretz, May 29, 2007
Memo From London: Should British Academics, or Rock Bands, Boycott Israel? New York Times, May 30, 2007
Lecturers back boycott of Israel, Education Guardian, May 30, 2007
Academics express outrage at Israeli boycott, Education Guardian, May 31, 2007
Divide and Rule, Education Guardian, June 5, 2007
Boycott should outrage academics, Inside Higher Ed, June 5 2007
Ignored by the Brits, Ynet, June 6, 2006
Boycott will destroy British academia, The Guardian, Saturday June 9, 2007
We Will Isolate Them, The Guardian, June 9, 2007 + ZOTW Commentry June 10, 2007
Government to form joint task force to counter U.K. boycotts, Haaretz, June 8, 2007
UK proposes joint academic seminar, Ynet News, June 10, 2007
US Unions condemn boycotts, The Jewish Chronicle, August 17 2007
Boycott a blessing in disguise, YNet News, Opinion, June 1 2007
FM praises British academics for nixing planned boycott of Israel, Haaretz, 30/09/2007
British academics forgo boycott call, Haaretz, 29/09/2007
Lecturers drop Israeli universities boycott call after legal advice, The Guardian, 29/09/2007

Responces, Blogs, Newsletters

2008
UCU Reconsidering Boycott, Little Bulldogs, March 27 2008

2007
UJS Chair's letter to UCU General Secretary
Lancaster University Students' Union Policy in repsonse
Academic Friends of Israel Digest vol 6 no 10 One week on
Academic Friends of Israel Digest vol 6 no 12
Goldhirsh Foundation Response
Responding to the Boycott by Shalom Lappin, at normblog, June 3 2007
Dark Days for the British Academy a letter by Prof Daniel Statman
A letter to UCU from Guy Handelman
SPME Petition against the boycott
Response from prominent British figures and law-makers, in Guardian Letters page, June 12, 2007

Other relevent documents and sources

The 2007 UCU motions
The 2007 document to be sent to branches
An explanation about the Durban Stratagy
Key quotes and summary of responses to the UCU policy
Why a cultural boycott of Israel would be banal, gestural and morally compromised
Relevent section of the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism
More background on anti-Israel boycotts in general

Other sites related to the boycott

UJS's UCU Academic Boycott
www.stoptheboycott.org
BICOM on the UCU Boycotts
Academic Friends of Israel
Engage
Jewish Agency page on Addressing the Academic Boycott of Israel at UCU