LONDON – Britain’s largest trade union for academics and academic-related staff in higher education voted to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and sever ties with the Histadrut, at its annual conference in Manchester on Sunday.
The University and College Union (UCU), which has around 120,000 members, voted to support a motion to sever all relations with the Histadrut and to urge other trade unions and bodies to follow suit. The union also rejected a motion condemning the UCU for inviting a South African trade unionist charged with inciting hatred against the Jewish community to speak at a union event last year.
The initiator of the motion, pro-Palestinian activist and Brighton University lecturer Tom Hickey, said that the Histadrut had supported “the Israeli assault on civilians in Gaza” in January 2009, and “did not deserve the name of a trade union organization.”
An amendment to this motion, proposed by an Academic Friends of Israel member, sought to “form a committee which represents all views within UCU to review relations with the Histadrut” and report back in a year. However, the amendment was resoundingly defeated.
“I am very disappointed that my amendment, which would have ensured a comprehensive review of the links with the Histadrut, was defeated, but since congress has been ‘ethnically cleaned’ in recent years of delegates opposed to boycotts, it was to be expected,” Academic Friends of Israel director Ronnie Fraser said.
The boycott motion invokes a “call from the Palestinian Boycott National Committee” for “an isolation of Israel while it continues to act in breach of international law” and calls to “campaign actively” against Israel’s trade agreement with the European Union – the EU-Israel Association Agreement.
The union also passed a motion, raised by its National Executive Committee, to give practical support for Palestinian academic trade unionists. The motion condemns the failure of the international community to confront the Israeli government “over the humanitarian disaster it is continuing to perpetrate in Gaza, and the continued development of illegal settlements in the West Bank.”
As a result, the union will work closely with the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees and other organizations that support a boycott of Israel. This includes the Scottish Trade Union Congress, which at its annual conference in April voted to reaffirm its support of the BDS campaign and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), a major player in the BDS campaign and advocate of a one-state solution.
In December, the UCU invited Bongani Masuku, international secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), to a forum to discuss the BDS campaign against Israel.
In the weeks prior to his invitation, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) found Masuku guilty of using inflammatory, threatening and insulting statements against the South African Jewish community, following threats he issued against Jewish businesses and supporters of Israel, and his pronouncements that Jews who supported Israel must leave the country.
Asked at the time whether it was acceptable for the UCU to give Masuku a platform, the union said the sources were “not credible,” suggesting the allegations were unsubstantiated.
“We don’t comment on stuff doing the rounds on the Internet and in the blogosphere, and never will,” a UCU spokesman told The Jerusalem Post at the time.
Reporting from the conference, anti-Israel activist Mike Cushman said, “[We] squashed Zionist smears on COSATU representative Bongani Masoko. The Zionists tried to... attack Bongani and failed miserably.”
Cushman, a UCU member from the London School of Economics and a leading supporter of an Israel boycott, has previously sailed to Gaza and met with Hamas. He had applied for a place on the flotilla that went to Gaza, but did not make the final cut.
He said the union would also debate an emergency motion on Monday’s flotilla raid, referring to it as “Israeli piracy and murder.”
“We will call for an end to the moves to limit universal jurisdiction so that Israeli ministers, generals and admirals would still not be able to travel freely without answering for their crimes,” Cushman said.
Another motion committed the UCU to starting the investigatory process associated with imposing a boycott on the Ariel University Center.
“By reaffirming its divisive boycott policies, it is clear that [the UCU] BDS campaign’s first target is severing links with the Histadrut, which the boycotters see as a close ally of the Israeli government,” the Academic Friends of Israel’s Fraser said.
“We can only hope that any meetings the Histadrut will have with the TUC [the UK’s major trade union] over the next few months will have a positive outcome, and the TUC will then be able to reaffirm its links with the Histadrut when it reports to its annual congress in September,” he added.
“The UCU also approved resolutions to start their process to boycott Ariel University College and also to ensure that any action taken will be within the constraints of the law,” Fraser continued. “How they propose to implement a boycott and remain within the law is not clear, as the union legal advice they received two years ago... clearly
stated that any boycott of Israeli academics was discriminatory.”
Meanwhile, Ramallah-based campaign group the Palestinian Campaign for
the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel expressed its “profound
appreciation for the courageous positions in support of Palestinian
rights” taken by UCU.
“The UCU has again firmly and decisively established its unwavering
commitment to the Palestinian civil society’s campaign for BDS against
Israel until it complies with its obligations under international law
and recognizes the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people,” the
group said in a statement on its Web site.
“The UCU has today confirmed its established position that it is
legitimate to denounce Israel’s oppressive policies and to hold the
state and its complicit institutions accountable for human rights
abuses, war crimes and ethnic cleansing,” it added.
Other UK unions and federations have voted to support the BDS campaign
against Israel as well. In April, both the Scottish Trade Union
Congress and Irish Congress of Trade Unions reaffirmed their commitment
to the campaign. In September, the British TUC launched a campaign with
the PSC to implement a boycott of Israel’s products and services as a
first step toward a more comprehensive boycott campaign.