British academic union drops call to boycott Israel

University and College Union's executive calls for solidarity with Palestinians, but also condemns rocket attacks on Israelis.

anti-israel 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
anti-israel 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The trade union behind previous attempts to boycott Israeli academia will not call for a boycott at their congress next month. Though the University and College Union (UCU), the UK's largest trade union for academics, lecturers and researchers, will raise a number of motions critical of Israel, it is the first time since 2003 that an academic trade union will not propose a boycott of Israeli academia. Last year the UCU was forced to drop its proposed boycott call following a threat by members to take legal action. This year, several motions, with various degrees of hostility towards Israel, have been submitted by the union's branches for debate at the conference. One motion calls for the "ending of apartheid and lifting of all barricades in Gaza; recognition of the democratically elected Gaza [Hamas] government; the establishment of free independent Palestine; respect for human rights in Palestine and the stopping of killing of defenseless Gazans." The same motion call for Israel to be tried for "human rights violations." Another motion calls for an arms embargo on Israel, a ban on settlement goods and that "the British government expel the Israeli ambassador." However, a motion proposed by the union's National Executive Committee (NEC) calling for solidarity with the Palestinians also condemns "the use of rockets against Israeli civilians." Last year the NEC submitted a motion that revived a call for a boycott of Israeli academia that had been aborted in 2007. "The absence of a motion on boycotting Israel is undoubtedly a sign of progress," said Jeremy Newmark from Stop the Boycott, a campaign group launched in 2007 to oppose trade union boycott initiatives. "We also welcome the NEC's more balanced position on Israel, especially as last year the executive itself proposed a boycott. "However, the draft motions still attack Israel from all directions, this is an 'anything but boycott' document that singles out Israel as the only country for condemnation and sanction. UCU members should reject these motions at their congress," he added. "Very little has changed apart from the absence of a boycott motion for the first time this decade," said Ronnie Fraser, chair of the Academic Friends of Israel. "The UCU continues to be the most anti-Israel union in Britain with five motions this year condemning Israel's actions in Gaza. "It is regrettable that the union continues to place Israel at the top of their list of international issues without balancing it with a condemnation of those in the Arab world who are not willing to recognize the existence of the State of Israel." Fraser said that a boycott motion could still be raised before the conference, as any UCU branch can still propose an amendment motion. He also questioned the motivation behind a motion calling for a campaign against anti-Semitism. The NEC has also proposed a motion calling for a campaign against anti-Semitism, and for a one-day commemoration on Holocaust Memorial Day each year that "commemorates the different groups targeted by the Nazis and looks at how to campaign against racism and fascism today with other education unions." Notes Fraser: "The UCU's motives for a campaign against anti-Semitism now are unclear, as one asks how can the UCU, which has previously said that it does not accept the recommendations in the Parliamentary Committee against Anti-Semitism report or the European Monitoring Center on Racism definition of anti-Semitism, now want to campaign against the rise of anti-Semitism. "It first has to clearly understand and publicly acknowledge that anti-Semitism exists on both the left and the right and is a threat to Anglo Jewry," Fraser said. The UCU congress will take place May 27-29 in Bournemouth, on the southern coast of England.