A British academic trade union responsible for continual calls to ostracize Israeli academia is again set to consider a boycott call and alignment with the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” campaign at its annual conference in Manchester next month.

The University College Union, Britain's largest academic trade union, will consider three motions concerning the Israel boycott during its national conference at the end of May. A motion that castigates the UCU’s decision to invite a South African trade unionist charged with inciting hatred against the Jewish community will also be discussed.

In December, the UCU invited Bongani Masuku, international secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), to a forum to discuss the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” 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 after he issued threats against Jewish businesses and supporters of Israel and pronouncements declaring that Jews who support Israel must leave the country.

Asked at the time whether it was acceptable to give Masuku a platform, the UCU stated that the sources were “not credible,” suggesting the allegations against Masuku 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.

The UCU spokesman added that the SAHRC ruling was made after Masuku had been
invited by the UCU.

At May’s conference, the UCU will be asked to sever all relations with the Histadrut and to urge other trade unions and bodies to follow suit, as part of a motion raised by Brighton University’s UCU branch. The 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.”

The motion also calls to “campaign actively” against Israel’s trade agreement with the European Union ¬the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

Another clause, raised by the UCU’s National Executive Committee, calls for practical support for Palestinian academic trade unionists.

It 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.”

'UCU allows anti-Semitic ways of thinking to pollute the union'

Dr. David Hirsh of Engage, a group of academics and trade unionists who campaign against the boycott call, came out strongly against the UCU's move.

“Annually, the boycotters propose to exclude Israelis from the global academic, economic, artistic and sporting community as though Israel was unique on the planet and as though it was normal to punish ordinary working people for the actions of their government,” said Hirsh. “The UCU leadership does nothing about the boycott or about the Palestinians, but continues to allow anti-Semitic ways of thinking to pollute the union and to degrade our solidarity.”

The Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine, a movement working to unite trade unions and non-governmental organizations to counter boycott calls of Israel, said “a boycott of Israeli academics is illegal because it violates basic rules of academic freedom as well as anti-discriminatory legislation.”

The call to “sever all relations with Histadrut, and to urge other trade unions and bodies to do likewise” is “outrageous,” said TULIP’s Eric Lee.

“Members are not given any reason for the union to issue such a strong statement. While one can understand the hostility to Ariel College, for example, the movers of this resolution see no need to explain their hostility to a fellow trade union ¬ one which includes many thousands of Arab members. It looks to me like blanket hostility to everything Israeli ¬ even the most progressive parts of Israeli society,” Lee said.

Ronnie Fraser, founder of Academic Friends of Israel, also condemned the UCU’s move.

“Having failed with an academic boycott campaign the UCU has now set its sights on a boycott, divestment, sanctions campaign,” he said. “They’ve however overlooked the reality that the global BDS campaign has failed over the last 10 years as Israel's economy (GDP) has nearly doubled, with increased Israeli exports over the same period.

“Nor has the campaign for divestment been any more successful as the European venture capital markets currently invest more in Israel than they do in any single European country. The truth is that their efforts will not bring peace and reconciliation to the region as it is part of a BDS campaign which is a one-sided anti-Israel narrative and propaganda exercise whose aim is to erode public support for Israel which they hope will eventually lead to the delegitimisation of the State of Israel,” Fraser added.

A UCU spokesperson said, "UCU’s general policy is not to comment on individual congress motions before they have been passed. There are over a hundred motions that will be debated at this year’s congress."

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