Academic Friends of Israel
Volume 7 No 6
27 March 2008
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
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.
Academic Friends of Israel
P.O. Box 360
Harrow, HA3 9WY
NEC Congress motion on Palestine and the Occupation
Proposed by Tom Hickey, (SWP) seconded by Linda Newman (President of the UCU)
Conference notes the
• Continuation of illegal settlement, killing of civilians and the impossibility of civil life, including education;
• Humanitarian catastrophe imposed on Gaza by Israel and the EU
• Apparent complicity of the Israeli academy;
• 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;
• UCU widely disseminate the personal testimonies of UCU and PFUUPE delegations to Palestine and the UK, respectively;
• The testimonies will be used to promote a wide discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued education links with Israeli academic institutions;
• UCU facilitate twinning arrangements and other direct solidarity with Palestinian institutions;
• 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.