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UCU academic boycott against Israel 2008

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UK group proposes boycott of Israeli academia

Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post, Mar 29, 2008 14:56 | Updated Mar 30, 2008 5:25
Source: Jerusalem Post

The National Executive Committee of the University College Union, the union at the focus of the last year's aborted call for a boycott of Israeli academia, has voted to submit a motion to its annual conference to revive the proposal.

Last week, a motion to reconsider academic links to Israeli institutions was proposed by Brighton University lecturer and Socialist Worker Party activist Tom Hickey. He introduced a similar motion that passed at the UCU annual conference last May.

In September, University College Union lawyers said a boycott "would be unlawful and cannot be implemented," and the proposal was subsequently withdrawn.

Last week's National Executive Committee motion was seconded by Linda Newman, the new president of the UCU, who ran for the post on an anti-boycott platform.

"Engage," a group of left-wing trade unionists and academics active in the anti-boycott campaign, said Newman was elected in good faith in a ballot of the union's entire membership as a candidate who would oppose proposals to exclude Israelis from the academic community.

During the union leadership campaign last year, Newman told Engage that she opposed the call for a boycott of Israeli universities.

"I felt that the boycott would be ineffective and I did not believe that it was supported by a majority of members... I will seek to promote and gain support from UCU for increased links between Israeli and Palestine academics. I will also seek to ensure that any proposal for an academic boycott is subject to a vote of all members, if such a proposal is passed at a future UCU congress. I trust this answers your questions. I hope I can rely on your support," Newman said.

Engage said Newman had now reneged on her promises and should resign immediately.

Ronnie Fraser, director of Academic Friends of Israel, said Newman's change of stance was a "coup for the boycotters" and came two months after her visit to the West Bank as part of an official UCU delegation organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

"She is also 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," Fraser added.

According to Engage, last week's motion calls on University College Union members to reconsider academic links to Israeli institutions in light of "apparent complicity of the Israeli academy in Israeli government policies towards the Palestinians" and for a broad discussion on "the appropriateness of continued education links with Israeli academic institutions."

The UCU would not comment on the National Executive Committee motion, saying it was not a public document and that the union did not comment on leaked documents.

"NEC motions are internal, not public, documents and should not be in the public domain," UCU press spokesman Dan Ashley told The Jerusalem Post.

Stop the Boycott, a campaign group launched last year to oppose all union boycott initiatives, has expressed concerned that the UCU has not published in full the advice of its own lawyers that it heeded when it stopped promoting a boycott of Israeli academics last year.

"This is farcical; have the UCU not learnt anything?" asked Lorna Fitzsimons, co-chair of Stop the Boycott. "Their own legal advice said that this was illegal and discriminatory, so much so that they kicked the other motion out."

David Hirsh, lecturer at the University of London's Goldsmiths College and editor of the Engage Web site, also called for the legal advice to be made public in full.

"It is now time to publish the legal advice that the union has been given so that we can all judge what it means for ourselves," he said.

The union was also told that while it could debate the pros and cons of Israeli policies, it could not spend members' resources on seeking to test opinion on something that is in itself "unlawful and cannot be implemented."

Fraser said he expects the list of motions at this year's UCU Congress to include proposals to support Hamas and to call for an academic or cultural boycott of Israel, or even divestment.

"I wouldn't bet on there being motions on the situation in Darfur or Tibet, but it is a certainty there will be ones criticizing Israel," he said.

Stop the Boycott said the UCU's National Executive Committee was "acting recklessly" and promoting discrimination by taking a pro-boycott position similar to that which was found to be illegal. Stop the Boycott has promised to support union members who challenged boycott motion in the courts.

"It is farcical that a small minority has hijacked the union in this way," the group said in a statement. "Stop the Boycott will support and empower to any union members who choose this course of action through seeking our own legal opinion."

"Last year's successful campaign to defeat the previous boycott proposal demonstrated that our community is committed and able to deliver an effective and hard-hitting response to boycotts, wherever they come from," said Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. "Stop the Boycott will once again coordinate the community's efforts with those partners inside the UCU to overturn these flawed proposals," Grunwald said.

Prof. David Newman of Ben-Gurion University, who represents Israel's universities in the UK, told the Post:

"In my meetings with university vice chancellors and principals throughout the UK, they have come out strongly against any form of boycott. We are currently developing new bilateral research and scientific exchange programs between the two countries and these will not be affected by a renewed motion."

Newman was also critical of lack of a robust response from the Israeli government.

"Apart from their condemnations, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is also not active in the boycott campaign. The proactive stance of the new ambassador to the UK [Ron Prosor] and his insistence on lecturing at university campuses across the country has provided some glimmer of light," he said.

"While resources are made available for the visit of Palestinian academics to UK campuses, and the holding of pro-boycott conferences and discussions on Israel's legitimacy, the visits of Israeli professors are minimal. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the universities see this as high on their priority list and [they] have, in effect, vacated the field to the pro-boycott activists," Newman said.

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

Related items:

Press Releases

AFI Digest of March 28th

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

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

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

UCU Reconsidering Boycott, Little Bulldogs, March 27 2008

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
BICOM on the UCU Boycotts
Academic Friends of Israel
Jewish Agency page on Addressing the Academic Boycott of Israel at UCU